published Monday, March 24th, 2014

Highway repairs continue as spring arrives in Georgia

ATLANTA — Winter may officially be over, finally, but an uncharacteristically rough season left chains of potholes and other problems on Georgia roads that state and local officials still are dealing with.

Weeks after a polar vortex brought subfreezing temperatures to the Southeast, the metro Atlanta area was caught unprepared for a winter storm that led to epic traffic jams in late January. About two weeks after that, another storm left a large swath of the Southeast beneath a layer of ice. Many area roads and highways have yet to recover from the wear and tear.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is using money from its $228 million Routine Maintenance fund to cover the costs of winter weather-related issues on the state's highways.

The maintenance money is separate from the department's capital construction fund, so the unexpected highway maintenance costs associated with winter weather aren't expected to have much of an effect on major road projects, said GDOT spokeswoman Natalie Dale. However, relatively minor maintenance projects may become less urgent priorities on a constantly shifting to-do list, Dale said.

"So when we have to spend more money on winter weather equipment, materials, etc. ... We simply can't make it as far down the list as we need to. We can't pull money from other parts of our budget -- we simply don't get as far down on the list," Dale said in an email. "So what you're looking at is a pothole won't get fixed or a damaged guard- rail may not be replaced."

It's unclear exactly how much the Georgia Department of Transportation will end up spending on winter wear and tear on Georgia roads, and Dale said the agency is applying for federal assistance and is still putting together cost estimates. It's unclear if spending on winter weather related issues will factor into the department's 2015 budget appropriation, Dale said.

The two winter storms and the associated cleanup costs had a roughly $13.5 million financial impact on Atlanta, according to Carlos Campos, a spokesman for Mayor Kasim Reed. Atlanta has a rainy day fund of about $137 million, and officials are drawing from that to deal with storm-related issues, Campos said. "Of course, we certainly view these types of unexpected weather events as qualifying for such 'rainy days.' Quite literally, in these cases; just add frozen temperatures," he said.

Atlanta officials are expecting to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for most of the costs. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal requested federal emergency disaster assistance funding, but it's not clear how the funding will be split up.

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