Less salt for Michigan’s roads this winter

There will be less salt used on Oakland County’s roads this winter, but they’re expected to be as safe as they’ve been in previous years.

The Road Commission for Oakland County will use 400 pounds of salt for every mile of two-lane highway. In the past, they used up to 800 pounds.

“We really don’t think the salt reduction will have much of an impact,” said Craig Bryson, public information officer for the RCOC.

The Michigan Department of Transportation has mandated that no more than 450 pounds be used for any two-lane mile on state highways.

The RCOC currently maintains 230 miles of state highways.

Bryson said the new mandate isn’t an issue because new “pre-wetting” techniques allow less salt to be used.

“New studies suggest that beyond a certain point you’re just wasting your salt,” Bryson said.

In order for salt to be effective on roads, a chemical reaction must occur with the salt and the snow.

The reaction requires water and the roads don’t always have enough pre-existing moisture.

“If you pre-wet it, the chemical reaction is already happening,” Bryson said. The snowplows have “pre-wetting devices” on the back that spray saltwater on top of the rock salt as it’s dispersed. This process, according to Bryson, requires less salt to do the same thing.

The bigger problem this year, Bryson said, is staff reductions.

“We’ve got 22 percent fewer snowplow drivers,” Bryson said.

RCOC’s fleet of snowplows is also aging. Bryson said there comes a point where maintaining a plow is more expensive than buying a new one, but they can’t afford to buy new plows.

“There’s not enough funding to adequately maintain our roads,” Bryson said.

Bryson said drivers should be aware of conditions and drive appropriately.