JEFFERSON CITY — With most of Missouri's interstates and highways clear of snow, Gov. Jay Nixon ordered state workers on Friday to help counties plow local roads.
The storm that hit Missouri earlier this week dumped up to 21 inches of snow in some parts of the state and freezing rain in other areas. Even with municipal governments sending out their plows, hundreds of local roads remained covered with feet of snow four days later.
The Missouri Department of Transportation usually clears only interstates and state and federal highways, but Nixon said he was taking "an unprecedented action" by ordering the department to help plow roads in 44 counties that had received record snowfalls.
"Many Missouri counties and cities need our help," Nixon said. "We'll do everything we can to return road conditions to normal, so vital health care, education and commerce can resume throughout Missouri."
Many small towns have no way to plow their streets, with just a few hundred people and no municipal workers, said Richard Sheets, deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League. Some communities have hired private contractors to do the job, but Sheets said paying for contractors and road salt will be difficult when local budgets are already spread thin.
"They have to have a balanced budget, so they're going to have to take it out of something else," Sheets said. "They're really struggling because they might not have the equipment or the personnel for something like this."
MoDOT spokeswoman Sally Oxenhandler said she didn't know how much it would cost the state to clear the local roads, but the department would likely seek reimbursement from state and federal disaster relief funds.
Since Jan 30, the department has spent at least $5.5 million plowing and salting major highways, Oxenhandler said — it's snow removal budget for the year is about $42 million.
Oxenhandler said clearing snow and ice from the roads is the department's priority, and if it costs more than is budgeted, the agency will spend less on annual road maintenance.
"The priority is getting the roads clear," she said. "If we have to take cutbacks elsewhere, we will."
Of the $5.5 million spent on the most recent storm, more than $2 million was for 40,000 hours of overtime put in by road crews. At some points during the storm, the department had workers out for the entire day. Another $1.2 million was spent on 20,000 tons salt and other abrasives for the roads.
Cities, too, are just starting to calculate what the storm will mean for their budgets. In Brunswick, 80 miles northwest of Columbia, residents are digging out from 21 inches of snow.
Mayor Joe Moser said state officials plowed U.S. 24, which runs through the heart of the town. However, Brunswick was working to clear most of its local streets with a payloader and dump truck. Moser said another dump truck was to arrive later Friday, and the town had already lost a big chunk from its budget.
"It ruins it," Moser said. "I haven't seen anything like this snow since I was a kid."