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County road agencies balance salt use with environmental, budgetary considerations

Posted at 2:56 PM, Nov 23, 2020

LANSING, Mich. — County road agencies are ready to use a variety of methods to take care of the roads this winter.

“Just as it’s important to add the correct amount of salt to cookie dough, it’s essential that county road agencies apply the right amount of salt to roads,” says the statement. “Use the right amount of salt, and it’s a recipe for success, including safe winter roads.”

But it’s not always easy for road agencies. It’s a balancing act they face every winter.

County road agencies use a variety of methods to change salt use, including applying liquid calcium chloride for anti-icing, pretreating roads with brine, calibrating vehicles and using innovative technology.

“We use as little salt as we can to protect the budget and the environment and make the roads as safe as possible,” Craig Bryson, APR, senior manager of communications and public information at Road Commission for Oakland County, said. “We walk a fine line between those two competing needs of road safety and salt usage. We can’t eliminate salt use. Human life is part of this equation as well.”

Between 2015-2019, there were 402 fatalities and 2,699 serious injuries on icy, snowy, or slushy roads in Michigan according to

Several other factors play into salt application, including timing and weather. According to Mark Christensen, superintendent-manager of Road Commission for Montcalm County, monitoring these factors is crucial to maintaining roads.

“We try to salt when the weather allows us the best value for your dollar,” Christensen said. “We really look at environmental factors when we make the decision to salt – what the road temperature’s doing, if it’s going to be sunny later, etc. It helps us determine the optimal time to salt, so we can do it when it makes sense. Bottom line: Let the environmental factors help you determine when to apply road salt.”

Overall, county road agencies have the motoring public in mind. By balancing road salt use with environmental and budgetary considerations, they work to provide the safest experience for drivers.

“We consider ourselves good stewards of the environment and the road,” Bryson said. “We are conscious and aware of the impact we have on the environment. We’re also stewards of public money, so we want to reduce the cost of what we do without reducing efficiency, and we want to maintain the safety of roads with less salt.”

For tips on safe driving in the winter, the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning website.

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