Salt, no sand on state roads

Officials in the “land of steady habits” watched other states switch from sand to salt to treat its roads in winter — for years — before making the switch itself seven years ago.

“We were virtually the last in the universe to make the switch,” Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said on Thursday. “We had something that was working for us, and had for years.”

But the switch to a salt regime allows the DOT to pre-treat highway bridges with a brine slurry that reduces or eliminates icing, officials said. Roads and bridges can be treated as long as a week in advance of a heavy storm, and — unless it rains as it did on Thursday– the salt “reactivates” to melt the snow,  Nursick said.

The state saves about $7 million a year by using salt instead of the old sand/salt mixture, the DOT spokesman said. Most of that comes from not having to sweep up the sand every spring, and finding a place to dispose of the “spent” sand.

“It’s considered contaminated once it’s been on the roads and only so many places will take it,” Nursick said. Sand also got pushed to the shoulders of the road by passing vehicles and so required several applications, he said.

Not everyone is thrilled with the use of salt. “A few dozen” complaints have been logged over the past few years that the corrosive material was rotting the undercarriage of vehicles.

The DOT official said newer cars are designed to handle that material, and washing the undercarriage when weather permits avoids that problem altogether.

Frank Juliano