DOT to use salt on highways this winter

The state Department of Transportation will use salt as well as sand to make snowy and icy highways safer this winter, said Bill Riley, maintenance and operations superintendent for Maintenance Area 3 of DOT's Olympic Region.

DOT also will use its anti-icing and deicing liquid more cautiously this winter because although that is a good program, it is costly, he said during DOT's annual "snow and ice" meeting on Nov. 13 in Port Angeles.

The annual meeting to review DOT's winter storm policies and procedures included representatives from the Washington State Patrol and Clallam County Sheriff's Office, city and county public works employees, Clallam County Public Utility District personnel and DOT's Olympic Radio, which broadcasts road conditions.

Riley said the rock salt being used this winter is imported from Chile because the salt obtained last year from Utah didn't work.

Along with the salt, DOT also will be applying liquid calcium chloride that goes by the trade name Geomelt, for anti-icing before freezing temperatures hit and deicing afterward, he said.

The Geomelt also will act as a rust inhibitor to reduce the corrosive impact on vehicles, Riley said, adding the Geomelt won't completely eliminate corrosion but it will help.

But because of the liquid's high cost, DOT will be using it more cautiously this year, he said.

"Run your car through the car wash or rinse it off with a garden hose after a storm and you'll be fine. The greatest thing you can do is keep stuff clean," he said.

"Salt Away" also is a great corrosion prevention product for those with fleets of vehicles, Riley noted. "Winter cost us a lot of money last year," Riley said, adding the state DOT is $6 million in debt from last winter.

DOT's Olympic Region is divided into four areas that are maintained from headquarters in Port Angeles, Port Orchard, Aberdeen and Tacoma.

Area 3, headquartered in Port Angeles, includes 557 miles of state highways in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

It has 30 employees, 18 snow plows, six liquid applicator trucks and 12 trucks that pre-wet salt and sand plus storage for 1,200 tons of salt and 32,000 gallons of anti-icing liquid.

Riley said beginning Dec. 1 and running through March 15, DOT adds a night shift and swing shift to its daily shift operations.

The shift schedules provide 24-hour coverage Monday through Friday with night shift coverage on the weekends, he said. During a severe storm or snow storm, DOT shifts to a contingency schedule of two 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until conditions improve, he said.

"We think of winter as snow and ice but up here it's a combination of a whole lot of things," Riley said. "Unfortunately, last year we were plowing snow on Fairholm in June."

DOT prioritizes its roads by traffic volume, with most of roads in central and eastern Clallam County being Condition 2 and those on the West End being Conditions 3 and 4, Riley said. Condition 1 roadways are the Hood Canal bridge and Tacoma Narrows bridge, he said.

DOT monitors winter road conditions daily using weather forecasting information, routine patrols and information from the Washington State Patrol, Clallam Transit System and other agencies, Riley said. DOT also subscribes to Internet weather forecasting services including ones from Canada and supervisors track news reports, he said.

"We don't rely on one particular forecast," Riley said.

Information resources for drivers include the state's 5-1-1 telephone number, DOT's Web site and DOT's Olympic Radio that broadcasts the highway advisories, he said.

Another change this winter will be a more cautious approach to sending employees out during storms, Riley said.

"Two winters in a row I've had trucks demolished in wind storms. It's a risky business out there," he said.

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