December 2, 2021

Salt use shaking out as normal

Despite mild winter, county on track to use as much as in prior years

Road Salt Trucks

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Cortland County Highway Department worker Steve Bush dumps salt into a county Buildings and Grounds Department vehicle Thursday afternoon, while Buildings and Grounds Department workers watch and wait. The Highway Department is on track to use around just as much salt as last year despite less major snow events.

Cortland County Highway Department worker Steve Bush drove the front end loader carrying salt over to the Buildings and Grounds truck and began filling it.

The winter has been mild — January was 7 degrees warmer than average — and the county hasn’t faced a continuous snowfall, but the county Highway Department is still on track to use just as much salt as it did before.

“We’re around 9,000 tons used,” said Highway Superintendent Charlie Sudbrink. “We’re over half, but we have quite a bit in the barn. I’m fairly confident we’re set until the end of the season.”

The county isn’t saving on salt because crews are still on the roads dropping salt. Mixed precipitation, rain, snow and freezing rain — it takes the same salt when the roads are cold enough to freeze, Sudbrink said.

“Or else everything would be an ice skating rink,” he said.

Other municipalities and counties see the same.

In Tompkins County, the highway department refers to the small amounts of snow the area is seeing as “nuisance snow.”

“We have to go out there and do something — it’s unsafe, it’s accumulating on the road — but it’s not a blizzard,” said Jeffrey Smith, the director of the Tompkins County Highway Department.

Without having numbers on hand, Smith said he’s are noticing about the same amount of salt usage as the previous year, too.

Drivers expect the roads to be a certain way in the winter, Smith said: clear and safe.

“It’s very much the same conversation that’s been going on around here,” he said. “They get accustomed to what level of service we can provide.”

That level of service includes using infrared technology in the trucks to measure the road temperature.

“We want to make sure there’s some salt on the road to take care of that freeze up,” he said, especially during rush hours to and from work.

Town of Preble Highway Superintendent Jeffrey Griswold said his crews are using about the same amount of salt, although he’s able to mix it with sand, which can give drivers a little more grip when driving.

He also has a good idea of where to lay salt, when to lay salt and the spots that may need a little more because he deals with a much smaller area than county crews.

“Our roads don’t see the traffic the state and county do,” he said. “This whole salt thing, a lot more goes on than deciding to put some salt on the street. Everybody has their own way of doing it.”

However, one thing he and Smith both said was the rain has not been a help. Rain washes away built-up salt, so crews need to spread a little extra.

“We’re kind of starting from scratch every time we have an (snow) event,” he said.

It’s a day-by-day process determining when to spread salt.

“We’re far from the end of winter,” Smith said. “We get ready for it and then we look at the weekend. We’re always dealing with the next couple of the days.”