Baltimore County Now
Saul Passe, Arborist, Baltimore County Bureau of Highways
Wow, that was a rough winter. I hesitate to put that in the past tense for fear that Mother Nature will throw down snow and ice just to spite me. As an employee of the Baltimore County Highways I am no stranger to the havoc that snow and ice can do to the roads, but as the Arborist for Highways I can tell you that this winter has also taken its toll on the trees.
Baltimore County has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA community. Many of our urban streets are lined with mature canopy trees, and even more of our rural roads are up against large forests. Winter events involving snow, and especially ice, can put these trees under extreme pressures that will exceed their normal capabilities to support themselves. Even if a branch doesn’t reach the point of breaking off, a quarter of an inch layer of ice on any branch is enough to make it bend significantly. Some of these branches are hanging of the road and can become a problem for motorists, not to mention the branches that do break off and fall in the road.
Once there are branches snapped off and laying in the road, or bending into the road what is to be done with them? If tree debris falls from a County tree (a tree in the public right-of way), County forces are responsible for removing them from either the road or the sidewalk. The Highways Bureau will only take care of the debris that falls into a public right-of-way; anything that comes down on private property is the responsibility of the homeowner. Any private trees that may fall into a public right-of-way will be cleared out off of the road or sidewalk, but can’t always be taken away by County forces, and remain the responsibility of the homeowner. The bottom line is that the care of trees along public roads is a shared responsibility. Baltimore County provides the service of keeping our roads open and free of tree debris, and the homeowner should take care of debris on private property.
As we enter spring we should keep in mind that when leaves come out they can add a lot of weight to trees. There may be some branches that have taken a beating over the winter and may be further stressed by a “full head of hair.” Species such as White Pine and Bradford Pear are softer woods that are susceptible to failure under extreme conditions. So, this spring, take a few minutes to look up into the canopy and take notice of our County trees. They are a valuable resource for the County that we can take care of together to ensure a green future for generations to come.
Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works
We’re really getting our share of snow this year with 17 official storms so far, (from Deon to Hercules to Pax to Titan!) – and we got our share of potholes too! The intermittent snow-melt, combined with freezing temperatures, damaged road surfaces and caused traffic headaches across the County. And Baltimore County’s Department of Public Works (Bureau of Highways) has been, is, and will be prepared to tackle the problem. In fact, Crews from eleven highway shops work throughout the year filling potholes. We’ve got equipment operators and laborers always on the lookout for potholes, and they schedule repairs as quickly as possible.
Because of our hard winter 2013 - 2014, (which began with a surprise snow on December 8) the number of potholes is certain to spike this spring. Freezing and thawing (plus a lot of water) is a recipe for road damage, and every winter the Bureau of Highways fills about 50,000 potholes on average. As a rule of thumb, the harder the winter, the more potholes need to be filled. For instance, during the winter of 2010 (you remember Snowmageddon?), potholes increased almost 20 percent. It probably won’t be that bad this year, but it’s sure to go up. We’ve already booked 7,374 potholes this January and about 7,500 in February.
While the weather is still cold, and there’s still a chance of freezing, crews will fill holes with a cold mix and then return in better weather for a permanent, hot mix fix. The hot mix isn’t usually available from the plant until mid-March although some crews have done a limited amount of milling and patching with the hot mix already.
Potholes are a road’s number one enemy and taking care of potholes is the “default setting” for Baltimore County’s Bureau of Highways. Whenever crews aren’t pushing snow or taking care of downed trees, they’re on the next pothole. So, when you see a pothole, report it. Call 410 887-3560 and be sure to give the location – a street address or a cross street is enough – and we will get it fixed as soon as possible.
Baltimore County Chief of Highways
Everybody’s curious about the price tag. How much does it cost to plow the roads and keep them open every winter?
In Baltimore County, when there’s a hint of snow – when the weather person says there’s a chance for precip tomorrow – we, in the Bureau of Highways, Department of Public Works, begin looking very carefully at the bottom line. Because as soon as the word goes out that we’ve got snow duty – that we’re on the clock – we’re on the meter too.
This year we expect that plowing snow (that’s with a staff of 400 employees manning three hundred trucks working from 11 shops) will cost more than $37,000 per hour. And when we put down salt, that price goes up to $108,000 per hour. That’s because salt costs more than $50 a ton and we stock about 50,000 tons at 14 locations across the county.
Sunday’s storm cost the County $1.4 million. We’re still tabulating the expenses related yesterday’s snow and will post the total shortly.
It’s expensive, of course, but the total cost to keep the streets clear and safe varies wildly from year to year. Last year was an economical year for us. Baltimore County spent a little under $4 million to call out crews, to salt and to plow for 13 storms – many of them just dustings. But “Snowmageddon” back in 2010 was more than five times as expensive. The bills came to $20 million. Snow accumulation that winter was estimated at seven feet!
For a complete picture, take a look at our website for a listing of storm costs since Fiscal Year 2001.
During the past 13 years the cost has gone from a low of $2 million (when accumulation was a mere six inches in 2002) to the colossal winter four years ago. The average is about $7 million. But whatever the cost, you can rest assured that Baltimore County's Highway crews will give it our all to keep the streets open this year.