D.C. region gets what it pays for when it comes to snow removal

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By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009

One December day in a small town very far from Washington, a heck of a lot of snow began to fall. After three days, it was four feet deep. After five days, it was six feet deep. And after one week, the snow was as deep as Shaquille O'Neal is tall.

Then the snow stopped, sidewalks were shoveled, streets were plowed and all in Petoskey, Mich., went about their business. Four days later, when winter vacation ended, the schools reopened on schedule.

"It was a little hectic and the streets narrowed up a bit, but there was no time during the entire event when you couldn't get around town," said Mike Robbins, who was on hand for every minute of it.

Petoskey has 6,080 people, about 36 miles of streets, seven snowplows and an annual snow removal budget of $398,000.

That's $11,055 per mile per year.

The District spends $5,636 per mile per year on snow.

Northern Virginia spends $1,623 per mile per year.

Maryland spends $1,529 per mile per year just on the state highways.

Were they not so blessed with good-natured small-town civility, folks in Petoskey might offer a blunt retort to the impatient people around Washington who thought that their snowplows were slow in coming when two feet of snow fell this month. They might say, "You get what you pay for."

Instead, Robbins, who is director of public works in Petoskey, said: "I suppose it can been challenging if you don't get snow on a routine basis. And if you get large amounts of it in a short period of time, I guess that can be challenging, too."

In Northern states such as Michigan where it snows a lot, people know it is coming and expect it to be plowed away in timely fashion. They budget accordingly.

By contrast, in Louisiana, when it once snowed for six consecutive days, the total accumulation was 6.3 inches. People know it's going to melt. They budget accordingly, too.

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