Despite light winter, NJ breaks record for plow costs

A street light in the Kingsway Regional High School parking lot in Woolwich Township creates a canopy of falling snow as a singletary car gets covered. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

The numbers are in, and despite a very light winter in terms of snowfall, the Christie administration broke a record: It spent $62 million to plow snow.

As I first reported in March, the high costs for plowing snow this year can be attributed to three things:

1) Christie gave plow contractors a 25 percent pay increase. The administration said it had to compete with owners of malls and shopping centers.

2) Even though far more snow fell on the state in the winter of 2010-11, when the state spent just $54 million, there were fewer "snow events" that season. That means that this season, beginning with Sandy (when sand was plowed from streets), forecasts indicated snow was coming more often and plow trucks were called out accordingly, a state transportation spokesman said. Most of those "snow events" were statewide, too.

3) During his first Christmas in office, Christie got into some hot water (or deep snow) when he was in Florida on vacation during a snowstorm. The aggressive response to snow storms since -- like calling out plow drivers well in advance of any possible snowfall -- could be a way of avoiding a repeat of that politically unfortunate and potentially dangerous episode. Transportation workers and union officials told me that after 2010, New Jersey has been more aggressive in making sure its plows are ready to go, regardless of the mildness of the expected storm.

One worker, who asked not be to be named for fear of retaliation, said that he had been called to do plowing jobs five times this past winter - but that contractors actually plowed only two of those times. The other times, they sat around drinking coffee, he said.