Wintry assault assails salt supplies -- Gazette.Net


Having survived last month’s polar vortex and with Punxsutawney Phil recently predicting six more weeks of winter weather, state, county and local officials are keeping an eye on the toll this winter’s weather has taken on their supplies and budgets.

Montgomery County has used slightly less than 50,000 tons of road salt since the winter season started in November, said Keith Compton, the chief of the Division of Highway Services in the county’s Department of Transportation.

At $52 a ton from the county’s supplier at the Port of Baltimore, that’s about $2.6 million worth of salt so far this winter.

The county tries to keep about 30,000 tons on hand so it will always be prepared for a major storm.

“That’s the comfort zone,” Compton said.

County road crews responded to eight weather events in January, and also had to deal with a lot of ice created by the unseasonably cold temperatures that sometimes dipped into the single digits, Compton said.

The State Highway Administration has had to use liquid magnesium, designed to make salt effective at much lower temperatures, in the state’s metropolitan areas where it’s usually not needed because the temperature of the pavement doesn’t generally get as cold as it has this year, said spokesman David Buck.

About the only bright side has been that the cold temperatures have usually made the snow fluffy and easier to plow, he said.

Buck said the winter has been a tough one around the state, with Garrett County accumulating more than 100 inches of snow and Ocean City getting about 13 inches.

The highway agency has activated its emergency operations center 24 times since November to coordinate the response to a weather event, Buck said.

The agency already has spent about $70 million on winter operations, and has used about 288,000 tons of salt to treat the 17,000 “lane miles” of roads around the state that it’s responsible for, Buck said.

Different types of weather call for different responses from road crews, Compton said.

When they’re dealing with snow, crews can plow the roads and then put down a light covering of salt, Compton said. But the only treatment for ice is salt.

“It’s really all about the management of the pavement,” Compton said.

Keeping roads plowed and salted is important to helping keep the county’s transit system open. That means that a severe storm won’t damage the county economically by shutting down businesses or keeping workers and customers from getting to work, Compton said.

But most important is making sure people can get wherever they need to go safely.

“It’s all about public safety,” he said.

Takoma Park has gone through about 450 tons of the mix of salt and sand that it puts on roads, said Daryl Braithwaite, the city’s director of public works.

This year’s cold temperatures have meant that crews have had to work more days of extra shifts to keep treating roads where ice would often re-freeze at night after it partially melted during the day, she said.

That has forced the city to already spend close to the nearly $33,000 it had budgeted for salt and the $20,000 for overtime, Braithwaite said Monday.

The city usually plans for about three storms per year with overtime and heavy treatment of streets, a point that’s already been reached.

“At this point in the year, we’ve pretty much spent all that we’ve budgeted,” she said.

With forecasts calling for the possibility of more snow this weekend, Buck said the highway agency’s crews will be out to deal with whatever weather comes.

“All we can do is look at the next forecast,” he said.