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Price of snow-related closures far exceed cost of timely snow removal, study says

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 14 2014 1:56 p.m. MST

Utah spends about $1 million to clear the roads after a major snowstorm. If it didn't clear the roads, a study found, the state would lose about $65 million in lost wages and disrupted business.

Michael Radice, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When a big snowstorm hits the state, it’s not only an inconvenience to drivers, but it can also cost the state's economy millions of dollars.

"Snowstorms are just incredibly disruptive," said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist with the Salt Lake Chamber.

The study commissioned by the American Highway Users Alliance in 2010 and performed by IHS Global Insight looked at the economic disruption of large snowstorms on 16 states. When a snowstorm hits, clear roads keep the economy rolling.

"When the economy stops when it snows, people aren't buying things, people aren't traveling, they are not doing things to keep the economy moving," Gochnour said. "So it's very disruptive and hurtful."

Snowstorm gridlock leads to reduced consumer spending, lost sales tax and disruption in the production and transportation of goods. There are also expenses related to fatalities, injuries and vehicle damage.

The study shows that Utah suffers nearly a $30.7 million decrease in direct impact statewide for a 24-hour storm that severely disrupts traffic. The study also shows the indirect impact associated with the loss of money results in another $35.7 million decrease from the economy for a total economic disruption of nearly $66.4 million, according to the findings.

Snowstorm disruptions hurt hourly workers the most, accounting for nearly two-thirds of direct economic losses, according to the study.

"People who do a time sheet and are paid by the hour and don't get to make up the time have less money in their wallets," Gochnour said.

A 24-hour disruptive snowstorm also costs Utahns $18.3 million in lost wages and salaries. When workers spend less, that hurts businesses.

"It's our job to keep Utah moving," said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. "It's our job to keep commerce moving. There's a lot of trust placed in us doing that job, and it's a responsibility we take very seriously."

Compared with the economic losses from snowstorm disruptions, UDOT's $22.8 million annual snow removal budget looks like a bargain. Each statewide storm costs around $1 million to clear. So far this season, UDOT has spent nearly $10.2 million in snow removal labor, materials and equipment.

“It’s a typical year,” Gleason said. “It is in line with what we’ve seen in the past few years.”

UDOT credits its weather center for helping to minimize economic disruption by helping plow crews work more efficiently, thereby saving on costs.

"They let us know when and where our crews are going to be needed," Gleason said. "So when a big winter storm hits, we are out there."

In several states with larger economies than Utah, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, disruptions can cost $300 million to $700 million for a 24-hour shutdown, according to the report.

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com

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