The city’s public works department is ready for another Wisconsin winter, and it has the salt to prove it.
More than 4,000 tons of the stuff sits in two storage sheds near the City Services Center on Highway 51. The salt will be put to good use when it inevitably snows this winter, said Operations Superintendent Kamron Nielson.
“Salt is our primary way of preventing snow and ice from bonding to pavement,” Operations Director John Whitcomb said during a recent Janesville City Council meeting.
During light snowfalls, salt is sometimes enough to keep streets clear and safe, making plowing is unnecessary. Depending on the weather, salt might not be applied at all because any snow or ice it melts could refreeze to roads as temperatures drop, Nielson said.
“We’ve been trying to be a lot more conservative with our salt use,” she said.
Salt sometimes has to be re-applied to ensure it’s still doing its job, Whitcomb said.
“It would appear to be wasteful, but the effectiveness of that salt, it only goes on for so long,” he said.
When temperatures drop to 25 degrees or lower, the salt is treated with chemicals to make it more effective at melting snow and ice, Whitcomb said.
“Each of these chemicals reacts differently in different temperatures, and we’ll use them basically according to the temperatures and the types of weather that’s being forecast,” he said.
The amount of salt used each year varies. The average over the past three winters has been around 4,000 tons, but the city’s 10-year average is between 5,000 and 5,400 tons, Nielson said.
The city has used as little as 2,500 tons and as much as 8,800 tons, as seen in the winter of 2007-08, she said.
Cities contract with the state Department of Transportation to acquire salt. The deal guarantees certain amounts of salt that can be bought throughout the year. Salt prices dropped to $64.59 per ton, a decrease of 2.5 percent, or $1.66, from last year, Nielson said.
Salt isn’t the only material the city uses to clear wintry roads.
If the city is expecting heavy snow or freezing rain, employees spread anti-icing chemicals on main streets, bridges, major hills, bus routes and sharp corners, Nielson said.
“The chemical that we use is a byproduct of beet processing. It’s a beet juice, basically, that’s mixed with salt brine,” Whitcomb said.
The juice is sticky and helps the brine stick to the road. Spreading the chemical in advance of a snowstorm is a proactive measure to make roads safer, he said.
Nielson reminded residents to give employees spreading salt enough room to work and not cut them off or otherwise drive erratically.
“Be mindful that they may not see you,” she said.