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Winter Road Clearing Costs in Maine Total $98 Million Annually; UMaine Report Summarizes Findings and Recommends Goals

Contact: Jonathan Rubin at (207) 581-1528
Joe Carr at (207) 581-3571

ORONO — An exhaustive year-long study of economic, safety and environmental issues related to clearing Maine’s roads has yielded a report from the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.  The report, developed in cooperation with the Maine Department of Transportation (MaineDOT), involved university experts in economics, engineering, public administration and environmental sciences.  It shows improvements in managing winter storm transportation issues over the past decade and recommends a series of steps aimed at reducing costs, limiting the negative environmental impact of chloride-based chemicals and improving public safety.

Prof. Jonathan Rubin of the UMaine School of Economics and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center is the report’s lead author.  He says that the implications for long-term state and municipal planning are significant.

“Because of its rural nature and vast territory, Maine must address some particularly difficult issues when dealing with transportation during the winter months,” Rubin says.  “By bringing together stakeholder groups and carefully examining available data, we’ve determined that our state and municipalities do an excellent job managing these issues and we’ve developed a road map for even more effective processes and procedures in the future.”

Some of the report’s key findings:

• In the aggregate, Maine spends an estimated $98 million annually on winter road snow and ice control  ($76 per resident); this includes some sidewalks and school parking lots and funding sources include the state, municipalities and the Maine Turnpike Authority

• The estimated 490,000 pounds of rock salt purchased in Maine during 2008-2009 represent 750 pounds per resident or 21 tons per road mile

• Maine has 23,450 miles of public road, the most in New England; MaineDOT maintains 18 percent of that total

• All chloride salts contribute to vehicle and infrastructure corrosion; none is shown to cause more corrosion than another

• Between 1989 and 2008, there has been a significant reduction on the number of fatalities on state highways; at the same time, the number of vehicle miles traveled in Maine has been increasing (except during the past two years)

• Drivers ages 16 and 17 are involved in nine percent more winter-condition crashes than their share of crashes under other road conditions; drivers ages 18-34 are also involved in more winter crashes, but not to the degree of 16- and 17-year-olds

• Long-term environmental effects of road chemicals are apparent along Maine roadways; new policies are needed to encourage the use of chemicals and technologies with less environmental impact

The report notes that chloride salts are currently the best and most affordable tool Maine has to use for winter road maintenance but that they take a toll on the environment, infrastructure and vehicles.  While the variability of conditions around Maine makes it impossible to apply one solution in all instances, the report says that there are “advances in technology and practice which can lead to reduced costs and reduced salt use.”

One recommended focus area relates to a move from deicing to anti-icing.  The former involves spreading sand and salt after snow has accumulated, the latter is a preventative process currently used effectively by MaineDOT, the Maine Turnpike Authority and some Maine municipalities.

“Anti-icing and pre-wetting policies,” the report says, “have been shown to result in reduced plowing time, a reduction in abrasives us, a decrease in total chemical use, and decreased maintenance costs.”  Those processes can help the state address cost issues, corrosion and environmental impact.

In addition to its key findings, the report contains a series of goals that the state and municipalities should address:

• Maintain safety while reducing salt and sand use

• Identify efficiencies to maximize the budgetary impact of improvements

• Reduce salt use

• Increase public awareness of preventative measures

• Increase driver safety education

• Increase public awareness of winter practices, costs and environmental impact

Rubin also notes that the study involved an extensive review of current practices in other northern states and in Canadian provinces.

The report is online here, with an executive summary here.

The University of Maine, founded in 1865, is the state’s premier public university, located in the town of Orono. It is among the most comprehensive higher education institutions in the Northeast and attracts students from across the U.S. and more than 60 countries. It currently enrolls 12,000 total undergraduate and graduate students who can directly participate in groundbreaking research working with world-class scholars. Students are offered 88 bachelor’s degree programs, 64 master’s degree programs, 25 doctoral programs and one of the oldest and most prestigious honors programs in the U.S. The university promotes enviornmental stewardship on its campus, with substantial efforts aimed at conserving energy, recycling and adhering to green building standards in new construction. For more information about the University of Maine visit http://www.umaine.edu

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