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Heat’s costs adding up

Weathering this month’s oppressive heat wave, with day after blistering day of near-record mercury readings, was enough to make one crack. Finally, U.S. Route 50 did.

Road crews were expected to work Monday night to flatten the 50-foot asphalt patch on U.S. Route 50, which had ‘crowned’ Sunday night.

A 50-foot portion of the concrete east-west highway that connects the Washington, D.C., suburbs to Annapolis and Maryland’s beaches cracked, buckled and turned itself into a mini-ramp sometime after 3 p.m. Sunday, forcing the closure of three lanes and an emergency overnight repair.

The damage is making an already-expensive run of summer weather even more costly after a mostly mild Maryland winter.

“I can only think of this happening a couple of times in the last 20 years,” said David Buck, a State Highway Administration spokesman. “It’s been under extreme, extreme circumstances. … It doesn’t generally happen unless it’s prolonged heat.

“You can’t predict it. We live in an area where you’ve got the extremes. You’ve got below-zero in the winter and you’ve got 105 … with pavement temperatures in the 130s [in the summer]. When you have extreme heat like this, it heaves up.”

The heat finally relented Monday, as an early morning storm brought behind it a cool breeze that much of the state had not felt since the calendar turned to July.

But the cost of the mid-summer’s nightmare is still being calculated by state agencies and the regulated utility companies that struggled with the heat as they attempted to restore power to some 800,000 customers who were without electricity following a violent storm on June 29.

On June 30, Gov. Martin O’Malley declared Maryland to be in a state of emergency, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did the same for the city. A city spokesman said total expenses had not yet been calculated. Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that “hundreds” of city employees aided the cleanup effort and helped distribute ice and water in the last 10 days.

The emergency declaration makes it possible that federal dollars will be used to reimburse some emergency costs stemming from the storm and heat wave.

But that won’t help Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which worked thousands of employees in 12-to-16 hour shifts for more than a week, as the heat-related power outages added to the utility’s workload.

Rachael L. Lighty, a BGE spokeswoman, said there were 100,000 BGE customers that were plunged into darkness because of the heat that followed the storm, called a derecho.

“We had multiple thunderstorms almost every day last week except for Tuesday,” Lighty said. “Extreme heat had a major impact.”

The cost of the derecho and heat-related outages could be comparable to Hurricane Irene, which cost BGE $80 million last fall, Lighty said. The utility company is still calculating its costs from the last 10 days.

SHA is still calculating its costs, too. Contractors have affixed a temporary asphalt patch to the buckled portion of the highway, on the westbound side between Route 197 and Route 301 near Bowie in Prince George’s County. Bucks said the repair would hold for “many days,” but that concrete would soon have to be poured to effect a permanent repair.

Crews were expected to work Monday night to flatten the patch, which “crowned,” Buck said, because rain began to fall as crews worked Sunday night into Monday morning.

“Structurally, it’s fine. It’s just a different surface for a 50-foot stretch,” Buck said. “It’s just going to look like a black patch on a white road. It’ll hold fine.”

Buck did not know how much the repair would cost, but said SHA has an emergency repair fund and on-call contractors for situations such as this one. The fund is separate from other highway maintenance funds, like the snow fund.

Despite a mild winter with little snowfall in most of Maryland, state highways didn’t save much money from that fund. There were still 90-inches of snow in Western Maryland, and the occasional threat of snow in the rest of the state forced SHA to scramble road crews for overtime, just in case.