State spends millions on storm cleanup
West Virginia has spent more than $4 million cleaning up state roads in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and officials expect that number to climb to $6 million by the time cleanup is finished.
While the storm closed several state highways with snow and downed trees and power lines, Secretary of Transportation Paul Mattox said all but a handful were reopened by Monday morning.
"A week later, we're pretty much through this thing," Mattox said. "We're in really good shape right now and we've made a lot of progress."
The storm caused the closure of portions of Interstate 68 and U.S. 219 and 250. All primary roads were reopened by the end of last week.
Only 16 secondary rural roads remained closed Monday morning, mostly due to down trees and lines. That included six in Randolph County, four in Tucker, one in Upshur, two in Roane and two in Kanawha.
Mattox said officials are working with utility companies to get the lines and trees off the roads.
Transportation officials estimate the state's cleanup costs will hit $6 million.
That's significantly less than the $14 million spent following the June 29 derecho. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed the Department of Transportation for nearly $11 million.
Mattox said FEMA officials are beginning to make damage assessments in the affected counties. Mattox expects FEMA again will pick up most of the costs.
Unlike the derecho, Sandy's wrath seemed to be concentrated in one particular region of the state.
"This was pretty much contained to the mountain counties," he said.
That allowed the Division of Highways to transfer crews and equipment from less affected areas to the hardest-hit ones.
The derecho, on the other hand, caused damage across all 10 Division of Highways districts, making it difficult to transfer resources.
Mattox said the state was lucky to avoid other problems like flooding.
Officials worried last week about flooding and rock slides due to heavy rains and melting snow. While some mountain snow has yet to melt, only a few areas had minor road closures due to flooding.
Mattox also said highways crews did a reasonably good job keeping major state roads clear of snow last week.
Even though the portion of I-68 was closed due to heavy snow, other highways like the West Virginia Turnpike stayed open throughout the storm. Mattox said the fact that major routes were reopened by Friday was an impressive feat.
"If you think about it, in the mountain counties it didn't stop snowing until Thursday morning," he said. "So putting things in perspective, I think we did real good."
In addition to having about a week to prepare for the storm, Mattox said highways crews had good cooperation.
"The National Guard was a big help," Mattox said. "Also, same with the derecho, having private citizens go out and clear some of the secondary roads was a big help."
Most of the costs so far have been related to tree and utility line removal.
The state budgeted $56 million for snow and ice removal programs this year. Mattox expected FEMA to reimburse the state for some Sandy snow removal costs, meaning the state will still have more money for storms this winter.
The Division of Highways was sitting on a healthy stockpile of road salt left over from the mild winter of 2011-12.
Mattox said Sandy hardly put a dent in that surplus.
"We've still got plenty of salt," he said. "Obviously we don't want any more big storms, but we've still got a good stock of materials if we need it."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.