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The cost of driving 55 mph in snow and ice: Professor details effect of road salting

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  • The cost of driving 55 mph in snow and ice: Professor details effect of road salting

    This article was published in today's Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I thought it was a well-written, succinct overview of one of the more pressing environmental issues in the Adirondack Park.

    My current job has me inventorying roadside trees in the Adirondacks. Over the past few weeks, I've been seeing first hand the negative impacts that road salt is having on tree health in areas immediately adjacent to the most heavily salted roads.

  • #2
    Outstanding article! This is a major environmental issue, statewide. Ironic the state spent 10's of millions the past 40 years on acid rain issues, then do this themselves. In the short term, this environmental blight will have more impact on local flora and fauna than climate change unless addressed soon. Our state politicians need to be made aware of the impact of salt. The NY "dry road" policy was ordered by the Cuomo administration as a response to the I-90 closings due to snow storms. It's not only bad for the environment, its terrible for the road surfaces and infrastructure. The frequent freeze/thaw cycles, due to the salt melt, cracks and penetrates the pavement causing it to breakup. It also permeates into the steel support structures shortening their lifespan. Repairing this damage costs NY'ers millions, if not billions of dollars every year. This issue needs to be brought to the forefront as much as fracking was.


    • #3
      It's not just what the salt is doing to the plants and water near the roads either. Salt reacts with so many things in many ways that end up causing more problems. A good synopsis of this was published a couple weeks ago on the Revelator:
      Scientists have found that many inland waterways are getting saltier, and that’s helping to mobilize heavy metals and other chemicals from the soil, creating potentially dangerous combinations.

      And it not just so we can drive 55. My street has a limit of 30 mph and during the recent storm I noted salt being applied four times/hour.


      • #4
        This is an interesting issue, because it involves several dimensions: Safety, Cost, Environment, and Culture. Successful approaches to this will be guided by an understanding of all four of these.

        For some history, here's a link I found that has a helpful review, free of the "advocacy distortion" that's so common:

        Notable from the link:

        "Before the 1940s, highway departments relied mostly on plowing and abrasives..."

        "During the winter of 1941–1942, New Hampshire became the first state to adopt a general policy of using salt..."

        "After World War II, as the expanding highway system became essential to the public and the national economy, road salt use began to soar. The bare-pavement concept, under which motorists could expect snow- and ice-free pavements shortly after storms, soon became a policy in most cities and their suburbs."

        "Road salt use has leveled off during the past 20 years."

        So nationwide, this is not a new issue. But after a few decades, environmental effects are (rightly) becoming a concern.

        Important to note in this is that the expectation of dry roads is not being driven "top down", but rather has become part of the culture. Of course you can always find Luddites to say "just drive slower" and "just be late" and "I walked ten miles to school every day through waist deep snow." But these folks are a tiny minority. The cultural needle is not going to move back to 1940. The expectation of dry roads on the part of most of the public will remain.

        Further, travel safety has become a legal liability expectation. If someone is hurt or killed in an accident, and their attorneys are able to link that to "inadequate ice removal from roads" then the municipality or other government will have a big legal problem n their hands. No government today wants to risk that. So as with the culture, the legal liability needle is not going to move back to 1940.

        Now environmental concerns are widely considered to be important by a large part of the population. And experience has shown that people are willing to pay more in order to protect the environment. This is where the comparisons that are made between road salt and acid rain actually have some validity. Acid rain was largely resolved. It cost money to do that, and people showed that they were willing to pay. This is the avenue today for success with the salt issue.

        What people today are NOT willing to do (by and large) is: 1. to be inconvenienced; and 2. to have their safety compromised.

        So all this analysis offers some guidance to those who are advocating on the road salt issue. Coming to this issue from a point of trying to change the culture, or doing anything that risks safety, is a guaranteed losing approach. Advocates will expend all their political capital, and then one company moving out of state because it's employees can't reliably get to work, or one traffic death lawsuit, and the whole program will be out the window, with advocates cast as "tree huggers who don't care about jobs or safety."

        The successful path here is to focus on the available technology to maintain the now required "dry roads" but with the use of less salt. Many technologies are out there which the earlier links don't discuss, including pre-brining, better timing of treatment, improved design plow blades, different chemical mixtures, etc.. The public has shown that they are willing to spend some additional money to protect the environment, and developing and implementing some of these better technologies is a program that can be sold to the public.


        • #5
          The state has insalted us all. New England uses a lot of sand. It takes a lot of sand to use that much salt. The answer? educate the people. Especially the very rich very influential people who have the Governor's ear
          Never Argue With An Idiot. They Will Drag You Down To Their Level And Beat You With Experience.


          • #6
            All of New York's salt come from under Cayuga Lake. Cargill Salt Co. has 13,000 acres of mines under it. It makes $10's of millions for the state in wages and collateral income. Cargill pays minimal state taxes as a company since the are a mining operation. They keep $3.5 million in escrow for any environmental mishaps. I have to keep a $1 million liability policy on a hunting lease!!! Being they are one of Cuomo's rich friends, how are you going to convince them salt is a bad idea? I just read an article where Chlorides/Sulfides were linked to algae blooms in Texas. New York has had issues with widespread blooms, especially the past 5 years or so, I wonder if chlorides are the smoking gun now that they are building up in NY waterways. They been trying to pin it on farming, but farmers have been using many of the same chemicals for years. Could be the chlorides are changing how these chemicals behave in the water? This issue is flying under the radar as an impending environmental disaster.


            • #7
              I believe much NYS salt also comes from south of Retsof NY. I say south because the century old mine took on water a few years back but its the same deposit...they just mined elsewhere. Same Deposit is also mined near Scranton PA.
              Interesting that with modern technology filled cars and radial tires we need so much salt, yet I remember driving 45/55 with the old bias ply tire in cars with no computerized technology.
              People are spoiled now and must do, demand being able to, 65 and faster.
              Last edited by Woodly; 04-09-2019, 10:00 AM. Reason: additionl info


              • #8
                Definitely learning a lot from here. Thanks, fellas!


                • #9
                  That's really interesting. Thanks for posting. Now that you mention it, I've often wondered about the impact that all that salt has. I've often thought about the negative impact on my own vehicle as I drive over it, and splash it all over my undercarriage. But, I also do occasionally step outside of my own sphere of concern, and consider the other impacts, like on the surrounding environment. So, this article is a much needed discussion on that.
                  Good things happen to those who hustle. -Anaïs Nin


                  • #10
                    I remember when much more sand and/or cinders was used in the ADKs and we drove around just fine in rear wheel drive vehicles but tourists demand their ability to speed.


                    • #11
                      I would suspect that some invasive, salt-tolerant species have benefited - either having soil and H2O chemistry altered in their favor or less competition from impacted non-tolerant natives or a combo of both. Phragmites comes to mind.


                      • #12
                        Deer like salt. Does this relate to deer coming to road sides at all?


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Bunchberry View Post
                          Deer like salt. Does this relate to deer coming to road sides at all?
                          At times yes


                          • #14
                            Tire chains?


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by MTVhike View Post
                              Tire chains?
                              I had a pair for my old car, which was a little 4 cylinder, 2WD Geo. They were amazing- once the chains were on, that car could go uphill through 4-5 inches of fresh powder with out a problem. It definitely made me question why, as a society, we ever shifted from tire chains to salting the roads to oblivion (I guess folks like the convenience of driving at normal speed on bare pavement).

                              Now I drive a Subaru, and don't get me wrong, it's a great car- but apparently tire chains are not recommended for use with Subarus (I guess they don't have enough space in the wheel well, and the tire chains can apparently mess with the AWD?). Sometimes, though, I do miss my little 2WD Geo with the tire chains.