Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Winter's wrath

From the Asahi News

MORIOKA: Winter's wrath leaves costly road damage
Last winter's record snowfalls have left more than a chilly memory for drivers in the country's colder climes. The unrelenting ice and snow caused moisture to penetrate below asphalt road surfaces, freeze and push up cracks at about 1,500 points on highways in Iwate prefecture. And more bumps in the roads are likely to emerge when the accumulated snow completely melts, Iwate Prefecture officials said.

On top of the damage, February's warmer temperatures may have put the chances of qualifying for government assistance on ice. Iwate Prefecture has asked the central government to label the situation a natural disaster, which would free up central government funding to repair roads, officials said. Otherwise, prefectural and municipal governments will have to dole out more than 10 billion yen for repairs, they added.

According to the prefecture's sediment control and disaster-prevention division, the damaged spots are on asphalt roads under the various jurisdictions of central, prefectural and municipal governments. Road officials expect to find even more damage after routes that were closed for the winter reopen, adding to the repaving and repair bill.

After the 2000-01 winter season, the cost to fix 2,291 damaged spots on the prefecture's roads was 26.5 billion yen. The snowfall was so great that the central government called it a natural disaster and paid two-thirds of the repair cost, covering the remainder with local tax grants. Under government rules, for ice damage to qualify as a natural disaster, the winter must be the coldest in the past 10 years. But this year, the temperature began to rise in early February, meaning the average temperature was not as low as in 2001, prefectural officials said.

The prefecture reported the damage to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport anyway, hoping to qualify for disaster-relief funding. Their chances are thin, officials admit. Yet, without central government aid, prefectural and municipal governments will have trouble paying for all road repairs. The cost could soar to over 10 billion yen, with some estimates at tens of billions of yen, given that repairs cost 26.5 billion yen in 2001, officials said. The prefectural government set aside 1.14 billion yen for road maintenance and repairs in its initial fiscal 2006 budget, based on a forecast from last September.

The extreme cold that hit was completely unexpected, the officials said.
In Morioka, the city government found 19 places on roads in its jurisdiction that need repaving--to the tune of about 220 million yen. However, Morioka allocated only 240 million yen for regular road maintenance projects in its budget for fiscal 2006. Repairing the winter's damage will erode most of that, leaving little for other repairs unless the city government passes a supplementary budget.

According to the Tohoku branch of the East Nippon Expressway Co., the privatized entity that runs the region's highways, 75 frost-damaged spots along roads in Morioka and Kitakami required repairs. "There was a lot of damage, and we've never seen anything like this," an official said, adding the repairs were done by the end of March.

(IHT/Asahi: May 9, 2006)

[Imagine if they took the potholes in YOUR neighborhood this seriously!]


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