Utah’s winter storms play a critical role in our community and to our economy. Our quality of life would significantly diminish without the Greatest Snow On Earth®. There would be no tourists to pack our resorts, hotels and restaurants or water to fill our reservoirs to enable economic growth.
However, not everything associated with our winter storms are beneficial to the state’s economy. When a big storm hits, the traveling public is at greater risk of crashing, traffic snarls, workers and consumers are delayed, and the economy suffers. Additionally, traffic that is brought to a standstill has a negative impact on our air quality and a hindrance to first-responders. Even some storms for our state’s ski resorts present significant challenges forcing canyon closures and limiting access–negatively impacting tourism. The economic impact of winter storms is substantial. Lost revenue is in the neighborhood of $35 billion annually from restricted mobility on major interstates nationally as a result of weather.
Locally, Utah’s ability to keep roads clear and traffic moving safely is vital to our economy. By some estimates, the one-day direct impact of major disruptions from a snowstorm cost Utah’s economy nearly $66 million. These losses are the result of reduced consumer spending; lost sales taxes; production and transporting of goods stopped; hourly wages lost; expenses related to fatalities, injury and vehicle damage; plus liability claims against local government agencies responsible for maintaining safe roads. This far exceeds the state’s $22 million dollar winter maintenance budget for the entire year.
The ability to keep roads clear does require an investment mentality. The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) also has been challenged with increased lane miles while being constrained with limited budgets to maintain to keep Utah’s roads safe and commerce flowing. To ensure Utahns and products can reach their destination in a safe and timely fashion, UDOT spends roughly $5 million on just road salt–that’s on top of wages and maintenance of vehicles–among other costs. Making things even more difficult, the unpredictability of the number and severity of winter storms in any given year can also quickly drive up costs.
In order to maximize taxpayer resources, UDOT and its private partners have been innovating new technologies and methods. Reducing waste and more efficiently deploying resources in remote locations, UDOT partnered with LiveView technologies to provide low-cost live streaming web cameras that are estimated to save nearly $200,000 in their first year. Additionally, UDOT utilizes “Ice Slicer” a high performance granular salt from Central Utah which is more cost-effective and efficient in keeping Utah’s roads safe for travel and open for business.
While the economic need is obvious, the funding to support winter maintenance and transportation investments generally in Utah remains in question. The Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Transportation Coalition is working with the legislature and key stakeholders to push forward Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan and the required investments to keep Utah’s public safe and economy moving.