State will pay more for holiday storm

TOPEKA — The white Christmas that many Kansans awoke to came with a big cost.

The state Department of Transportation is still tallying the expense of clearing roads after a winter storm hit Kansas during the holiday.

Department spokesman Steve Swartz said a snowstorm of the duration the state experienced typically would cost about $2.2 million. "But since this storm took place over a holiday, pay rates and labor cost will be greater," he said.

Swartz said it will take a few weeks before transportation officials know precisely how much the storm cost because most of the expenses relate to payroll, and some payroll costs won't be processed until mid-January.

Snow began falling early Dec. 24 and continued on and off until Dec. 27, making travel difficult. Parts of Interstate 70 and other roads were temporarily closed.

Accumulations ranged from trace amounts in the southwestern part of the state to between 6 and 10 inches in two bands that stretched across northwestern and eastern Kansas, said Scott Blair, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Topeka.

Several cities in northeastern Kansas set snowfall records, including Topeka, where 19.2 inches fell in December, Blair said.

Swartz said the storm was "very slow moving" and affected the entire state.

He said road crews faced a combination of dry snow and wind, which made conditions perfect for drifting. And that drifting made it "extremely difficult" for KDOT workers to keep roads passable, Swartz said.

He said the department continues to focus on snow and ice removal despite budget cuts, but motorists may notice a slight difference in driving conditions this winter.

In past years, crews worked overtime until the pavement was bare.

This year, crews will continue to work until bare pavement is exposed during regular business hours. But now the department will consider how heavily traveled a road is before authorizing overtime to clear it.