Electronic message signs along the Garden State Parkway flashed a warning Tuesday to motorists: “Winter weather advisory. Be prepared.”
It was yet another reminder of a stormy winter that seemingly won’t go away, even though the calendar now officially says spring. For winter-weary highway agencies, it has been a financial strain — pushing their snow-removal costs into record territory.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation had spent about $120 million to keep state roadways clear of ice and snow leading up to Tuesday’s early spring storm, Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said. Costs will increase higher after clean-up of several more inches of snow dumped on parts of South Jersey on Tuesday.
Overall, the storm-related costs for the state, county and municipal roadways this winter could approach $500 billion, Simpson told reporters Tuesday after the New Jersey Turnpike Authority board meeting in Woodbridge.
The turnpike authority, which operates the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway, is also experiencing record-breaking costs for snow removal. Before Tuesday’s storm hit, the authority had spent $39 million for cleanup costs in 2014 and a total of $49.8 million going back to the start of snow season on Oct. 15.
As the snowfall has mounted, so have the costs. Donna Manuelli, the authority’s chief financial officer, estimated that the final tally will exceed $50 million, a record amount for the turnpike and parkway, she said.
“In the first two months of 2014, a total of approximately 51 inches of snow fell in New Jersey, compared to only approximately 16 inches of snow for the same period in 2013,” Manuelli said in her monthly financial report to the authority’s board members.
The stormy weather also cut into the authority’s toll revenue in January and February, creating an additional financial hardship. With motorists staying at home during the storms instead of commuting to work, traffic was down more than 4 percent on the turnpike and close to 6 percent on the parkway in January and February. In financial terms, that cost the turnpike more than $7.2 million in lost toll revenue and the parkway about $3.3 million, Manuelli said.
New Jersey’s other toll road, the Atlantic City Expressway, also has suffered financially from the harsh winter. The South Jersey Transportation Authority, the expressway’s operator and owner of Atlantic City International Airport, has spent $2.28 million so far in 2014 to keep the road and runways clear of snow, exceeding the previous high of $2.27 million in 2010, spokesman Kevin Rehmann said. The 2014 figure does not include costs for the airport from Tuesday’s storm.
The severe weather has also cut into the expressway’s toll revenue. In February, toll revenue came in at $4.5 million, down nearly 6 percent from a year ago. Expressway revenue declined more than 7 percent, to $4.6 million, in January.
“We attribute the decline in toll revenue to the significant number of winter storms we have experienced this season,” said Frank Frankowski, the SJTA’s interim executive director. “We welcome spring with great enthusiasm.”