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State Budgets Continue to Take Winter Beating; Salt Sails to New Jersey

New Jersey's ship is coming in, albeit slowly, with much-needed salt to help clear the state's highways.

Joe Dee, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said a barge is on its way to Maine to pick up 9,500 tons of a 40,000-ton shipment.

States have had difficulty getting salt because of high demand during a winter that has taxed crews responsible for clearing snow and ice from the highways.

The state tried to receive a federal waiver from the Jones Act to have a foreign-flagged ship at a port in Maine bring the entire shipment to Newark, N.J. However, Dee said the federal government declined to grant the waiver.

The barge is Plan B.

"Our job was to get it down here," Dee said.

The barge is slower and will cost more money to make repeated trips to get the rest of the salt, which will also be shared with New Jersey municipalities, Dee said.

"Everyone is desperate for salt," he said.

New Jersey had used 442,000 tons of salt, as of Feb. 18. Last winter, they used 258,000 tons for the season.

The first salt from the Maine shipment should arrive in Newark early next week, Dee said.

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Next door in Pennsylvania, the state Department of Transportation has used about 1 million tons of salt, about 240,000 tons above its five-year average, a PennDOT spokeswoman said.

"We're still getting salt every day, but we're experiencing the same kind of delays that other states are having," Erin Waters-Trasett said. "There have been huge demand and successive storms."

PennDOT has 187,000 tons available and can move salt around the state as needed.

Normally, Pennsylvania would have had less money available for spring road maintenance because of more money spent for winter cleanup.

That will change under the state's new transportation plan, approved last year by the state's General Assembly and governor, Waters-Trasett said.

Pothole season started early in Pennsylvania because of wild temperature fluctuations and the freeze-thaw cycle. Many roads have pothole problems because they haven't been reconstructed due to a lack of funds.

The freeze-thaw cycle occurs as water freezes on the road and expands into any kind of pavement imperfection, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

"It starts to break up the pavement. The pavement can settle out and loosen. Traffic drives over it and there are big potholes," Sosnowski said. "There's an old saying that where you have water, traffic and freeze-thaw cycles, you will have potholes."

PennDOT crews do go out when they can to apply temporary "cold patch" to fill potholes until conditions improve for a permanent solution.

"With the additional funding, we will be doing a lot more work this spring," Waters-Trasett said. "We will be filling potholes and there should be fewer going forward with the funding."

New Jersey has spent $97.7 million on winter maintenance through Feb. 18, well above the last four winters, Dee said.

No spring work will be postponed because of an overblown winter budget, Dee said.

"We get the job done and work with other departments and [the state] Treasury to get the money we need to pay contractors and vendors for the materials we use," he said.

"It's a matter of public safety. The job of clearing snow is so important for commuters going to work and for interstate trucking."