2117701488_6a6dd04290Mayor Greg Nickels has reversed city policy in making it clear that salt may be used during future snow storms. Salt had previously not be used in Seattle due to the real concerns of its environment impact on Puget Sound. Salt, however, is one of the few effective ways to actually expose asphalt during large snowfall.

The mayor set certain conditions for using salt: on hills, arterials or snow bus routes, and on routes to hospitals and other emergency facilities when at least 4 inches of snow is predicted, if ice is predicted, or if extreme cold is expected to last more than three days.

It seems as if these conditions are stringent enough to limit the environmental impact, and we hopefully won’t need to use salt every year. Personally, I am happy to see this change since Seattle city streets being covered with ice made it impossible for Metro to provide effective bus service.

Next Monday we’ll be looking at the performance of our transit agencies during the storm and begin a dialog on some changes to prepare for future storms.

(Photo by Flickr member {Alicia}.)

9 Replies to “Seattle to use Road Salt During Future Storms”

  1. Finally, some common sense starting to get through to the Mayor’s brain. My quibble, though is that the Mayor ought to set a salt standard for actual conditions, not predictions. But this is better than the old policy.

  2. I also hope they crib from WADOT for deciding what substance to spread where. WADOT uses sand, sand+salt, salt, liquid de-icer, dry de-icer (CaCl I believe), and dry de-icer+sand depending on conditions. I believe WADOT is mostly prefering the dry de-icer to sand and rock salt for most applications because it works better, costs less, and is more environmentally friendly.

    1. Since it seems like WSDOT has much more experience with this I hope they would be of help and help SDOT figure out what is most appropriate. There are also substances you can use (some kind of saline solution I believe) prior to a storm to inhibit the formation and adherence of ice.

      And to AJ below, I’m not sure why you would expect every single lane mile of Seattle to be covered in salt. I’m certainly a salt advocate, but in most cases a single lane on primary and probably secondary thoroughfares seems more than adequate to me. But maybe that’s just me. The goal should be to allow transit and commercial vehicles to keep running effectively and also allow most people to travel these somewhat main roads safely in their cars.

      1. They covered over 1,200 lane miles in this event several times. These are the priority lanes you’re looking at.

        In this region, it really should be case-by-case, and going into a giant capital project as with creating infrastructure for salt is pretty silly and capitulating to a lot of self-serving attitudes around here. Not many substantiated reports of actual hardship endured, none of the doom and gloom humanitarian crises people predicted, either.

        I think we should follow along with cities like Idaho Falls, ID: Sand, slow driving, shoveling sidewalks. Of course, they don’t deal with snow like Seattle does, I’m sure.

  3. A detail covered in the Seattle Times article showed that this is not a Nickels-era policy. It was started in 1998, when Nickels was not the mayor. It was Paul Schell. After being mayor during the 1990 Christmas Storm and another disaster storm in 1996, I doubt Norm Rice might have come up with that policy.

  4. Let’s do the math:
    Seattle has 4,000 lane miles of roads
    It takes on average 300-400lbs of compacted road salt per lane mile, each event (as in, each snowfall, not event in the sense of a week of snow; in this case, it would require at least 3 applications, if not more)
    Road salt requires 25 cubic feet to store per ton.
    Salt is currently hovering at about $200/ton

    Money, space, storage. Also, note that shortages increase the further you are from distribution points on rail lines. It’s hard to imagine getting the $200 rate or even a lick of salt when the weather is as nationally screwed as it has been during this event.

    There are no easy answers.

  5. Committing to salt is a huge improvement. Let’s be aware that Minneapolis uses gobs of salt each winter, and is full of thriving wetlands and about a dozen Green Lakes. So the environmental damage to their fresh water seems minimal. Not a worry for us, is it, really?

  6. This is a good thing, and welcome news. Every major (and minor) snow-possible city up and down the northeast and upper midwest uses salt or other compounds to clear major roads. Protecting the environment is also a good thing, and it is a testament to the area’s committment to the environment that the voluntary policy on road salt has lasted up to this point. However, when it gets so out of hand that even the most basic services (namely emergency services – fire, ambulance, etc.) are experiencing trouble, sometimes protecting lives needs to take precedence over protecting the environment. A job well done and well thought out by Nickels. Next time we get a snow-pocylpse, the DOT will be ready.

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