PORTLAND, Ore.—Oregon has long avoided the use of rock salt for snow removal but now it plans a five-year pilot project to use salt strategically on two routes typically hard-hit by winter storms.The Oregonian reported Friday that ( http://is.gd/afSTbh) it obtained a state Transportation Department document that says the agency wants “another tool in the toolbox” to keep roads clear.
Transportation Department spokesman Dave Thompson acknowledges that rock salt is “stuff we said we wouldn’t use in the past.” However, he says occasional use would help make for “consistent highway conditions” between Oregon and neighboring states that use salt.
The plan calls for using solid rock salt on an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 5 where it crosses the Siskiyou Pass at the California border, and along 120 miles of U.S. Highway 95 between the Nevada and Idaho borders.
Thompson said there are no plans to use salt in the Portland area because of its corrosive effects on bridges.
Oregon Environmental Council clean water advocate Teresa Huntsinger said many other states are trying to reduce the use of road salt. Concerns include possible residue contamination of water supplies and damage to vegetation.
Still, with California, Nevada and Idaho using salt on roads during snowstorms, the contract can be dramatic: clear driving in those states, packed snow on the highway in Oregon, Thompson said. The need to chain
up vehicles in Oregon leads to traffic delays and, in some cases, crashes, he said.”We want to provide the safest possible roadway system,” says a seven-page, question and answer document outlining the plan. “These two pilot projects will help us determine if, in specific, limited situations, salt can help us do that.”
State transportation officials recognize the dangers posed by salting roads to remove snow. A separate “best practices” document, written by department engineers and downloaded from the Internet, calls salt, “the most mobile, the most corrosive and the most likely deicer chemical to negatively impact surface and groundwater resources.”
The plan did not go through the state Transportation Commission, which sets broad policy for the department, said Shelly Snow, an Oregon transportation spokeswoman.
“Our maintenance folks can make this kind of decision on their own,” Snow said. “They did in this case.”
Snow said department officials checked with the state Department of Environmental Quality and with the National Marine Fisheries Service, both of which approved the pilot project.
There’s still the question of explaining this to the public.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to word it,” Thompson said. “This is a major change.”