In late October and early November, two of these weekly articles explained the difficult decisions that were necessary for our various highway departments to deal with snow and ice control on our highways, and some of the factors that lead to using abrasives or salt. Complicating this dilemma is a strong environmental movement to reduce the use of salt. I mentioned in the articles that I had attended a day-long workshop on this subject about five years ago.

A free webinar on Nov. 24 by Cornell Local Roads Program was an opportunity to check out any new updates on this. The presenter was Jim Craw, retired highway superintendent for the town of Manlius and the village of Fayetteville.

The most important factor in getting the snow and ice off our roads and highways is to prevent it from binding to the pavement in the first place. Once the snow and ice bind to the pavement more chemical treatment is required to rid the highway of the snow and ice pack. To effectively prevent the bonding, pre-treating the road with brine is the preferred option. This can be accomplished even days ahead of an expected snow or icing event. Using liquids to pre-wet the road prevents the bounce and scatter resulting from using rock salt, thus accomplishing the task with less use of salt.

Craw said that highway departments must pay more attention to the materials being used on the roads. Using liquid ice control (brine) reduces the amount of solid materials needed for treatment. He reinforced the concept that on a per treatment basis, sand costs more than salt. Adding in spring cleanup of the sand, salt is significantly less expensive. He said that when the town of Manlius used sand, spring cleanup took two months. With salt, it took one week.

Craw emphasized the need for municipalities to have a written policy for snow and ice removal, including designating the level of service required for each road. For the same level of service anti-icing (pre-treatment) costs less than de-icing. A written policy forces planning ahead, reduces the potential for tort liability against the municipality, keeps everyone on the same page, and can create better public understanding. A good snow and ice control plan uses less salt (yeah environment) while still providing safety on the highway (yeah safety). Craw said a good strategy is to apply treatment to the center of the road rather than the entire roadway. This will initially give motorists good traction on the left side of the vehicle and will gradually work its way to the shoulders, using less salt than treating the entire roadway.

He also emphasized the need to keep accurate records. This is important for defense in a lawsuit, to accurately determine budget requests, to measure efficiency, and to determine if and where improvements can be made. Since there’s always room for improvements, let’s hope our highway departments can reach a level of compromise that can reduce the amount of abrasives and chemicals used and still keep our roads relatively safe.

Maybe we, as drivers, need to compromise as well. Expecting bare roads an hour after a storm ends may be unreasonable.

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