Alaska transportation officials have posted an online map displaying varying priorities for clearing snow from state roads this winter -- and warned that response times may be slowed by budget cuts.
The color-coded map, which shows many of the 5,619 miles of highways across Alaska maintained by the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, indicates which of five priority levels they fall into. Users can click on any road shown to display its winter maintenance priority.
According to the map, "high-volume, high-speed" routes such as Southcentral Alaska's Glenn and Seward highways and the Parks Highway through Wasilla are priority-one roads slated for clearance within 24 hours of a winter storm. Many of the state's longer thoroughfares, like the Parks Highway past Wasilla as well as the Dalton and Richardson highways, are priority-two, meaning it could be up to 36 hours after a major snowfall before they are cleared by state road crews.
"Each winter DOTPF maximizes its resources to meet the provided operating budget," department officials said in a Thursday statement unveiling the map. "This winter will be no different. However, the response frequency will be reduced, and response time to all routes may take longer depending on the severity of the winter storm."
Shannon McCarthy, an Anchorage-based DOT spokeswoman, said Thursday the state's winter maintenance road priorities haven't changed, but the department wanted to make them more accessible to motorists.
"The information's been available on the website before, but just not in this format. We wanted to make sure we had a nice, usable format for the public to see," McCarthy said. "This is more in reaction to what happened to the DOT budget last year, which was a reduction of $34.6 million."
"Major local roads," such as Elmore Road in Anchorage or Big Lake Road in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, are priority-three roads that should be cleared by crews within two days. Minor local roads, like East 36th Avenue in Anchorage and Outer Springer Loop in the Valley, make up priority-four roads and may not be cleared of snow for up to four days.
Roads that receive only seasonal maintenance each spring, like the Denali and Taylor highways, are classified as priority-five.
McCarthy said the department's budget cuts have reduced the number of both workers and vehicles available for maintenance work this winter.
"People have moved from full-time to part-time, or from part-time to seasonal, and some positions have been lost statewide as well," McCarthy said. "We've had to get rid of equipment on a statewide basis, because equipment takes time and maintenance to maintain."
The most immediate effect of the cuts, however, has been a blow to the overtime budget DOT often uses to expand its winter coverage. Under the old budget, for instance, a plow-truck driver clearing a priority-one or priority-two road might be asked to also clear a nearby priority-three road on overtime.
"That won't be able to happen this year," McCarthy said. "When we have an operator that is working on a priority-level-one or two, we'll just have them come back and send out the next available operator."
That operator, McCarthy said, might be sent to a higher-priority road if necessary -- further delaying snow removal from the lower-priority road.
Despite the reduced budget, however, McCarthy said Alaskans can still expect a response if they inform local DOT maintenance offices of dangerous conditions on state roads.
"Anything that would be a safety problem, we'll get right on top of," McCarthy said.
The department's website also features links to a series of road-condition webcams across the state, as well as a list of winter driving tips.
To view the map go to dot.alaska.gov/stwdmno/wintermap/.