GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As West Michigan waits for Thursday’s snowstorm, the Kent County Road Commission says it’s prepared to keep the roads clear this winter. But because of diesel prices hitting record highs, the county is paying more to get the job done and plans on cutting other projects down the road.
“We feel pretty comfortable that we have the staffing we need, the trucks we need — it’s just a matter (that) we’re going to pay more to get the same thing done this year than what we did last,” said Jerry Byrne, the deputy managing director of operations for the Kent County Road Commission.
Today, the Kent County Road Commission is paying $1.50 more a gallon for diesel fuel than last year. That’s $620,000 more.
The trucks only get between three and five miles a gallon, so they have to refill often.
“When you’re out there 12 hours a day and you’re getting three miles a gallon in a heavy wet snowstorm, you’re going to go through a lot of fuel,” Byrne said. “Some of these trucks have to fuel up through the course of the day because they can’t run all day on a tank of gas.”
Byrne said the trucks use 300 to 500 horsepower.
“You have a blade down,” he said. “You have a front plow down. You have a sander going. It’s using all that horsepower, and it’s making that engine work.”
On top of that, it costs more to get critical supplies.
“Everything we get comes via transportation,” Byrne said. “Either a truck, the salt comes on a barge and they drop it in Ferrysburg or Muskegon, and they load it on a truck. Almost everything we get here costs more because the truckers have to pay more for fuel.”
Because truckers are paying more for fuel, they’re passing those costs onto the road commission.
“It’s not just when we fill our trucks up; it’s when all the suppliers have to come here,” Byrne said. “And they’re getting those same higher diesel fuel prices. They have to pass that onto us, the customer.”
Higher diesel prices are forcing the county to cut back. There will be less road and construction work done this summer.
“The changes that we would probably look at are some of the significant overlay repaving type projects where we can save $200,000 or $300,000 per project,” Byrne said.
“Maybe the road in front of your house won’t be done this year,” Byrne added. “It’ll have to wait until next year.”
But no matter what, Byrne says nothing will change this winter.
“We will not take trucks off the road because we’re paying more for fuel,” he said. “We are not going to reduce that level of service.”
During the day, Byrne said they will have more than 100 trucks out on the road running 12-hour shifts. At night, there will be 40 trucks.
Byrne said snowplow drivers need reliable fuel, and that’s more important than the price. And at the end of the day, they’re focused on keeping the roads clear.
“It’s not worrying about if we’re paying $4 a gallon or if we’re paying $5 a gallon,” Byrne said. “It’s getting the job done as efficiently as what we can.”