Roads on track with salt use

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 2, 2016

 As of Jan. 15, the Road Commission for Oakland County had used 25,646 tons of salt, which officials say is average for this time of year.

As of Jan. 15, the Road Commission for Oakland County had used 25,646 tons of salt, which officials say is average for this time of year.

File photo by Deb Jacques


WEST BLOOMFIELD —  Despite Old Man Winter refraining from dumping piles of snow so far this winter season, the Road Commission for Oakland County and local public works departments are reporting average salt use at this time. 

Craig Bryson, Road Commission public information officer, said that the Road Commission has had to salt the roads almost daily because of the frequent dusting of snow on the roads.

The commission, which owns and maintains West Bloomfield’s roads, budgets for about 90,000 tons of salt, but typically uses about 64,000 tons. As of Jan. 15, it had used 25,646 tons of salt, which Bryson said is “pretty average.” Last year at this time, the commission had used about 28,000 tons, and in the 2013-14 season, about 45,000 tons. 

“By early January (of this year) we were still way, way below the norms, but we caught up pretty quickly,” Bryson said. 

Road Commission plows are dispatched depending on the safety and slickness of the roads. Salt is dispersed on the roads, but at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, salt begins to lose its effectiveness. When the temperature drops to 10 degrees Fahrenheit or below, salt is ineffective, which is why the Road Commission uses liquid brine. Liquid brine lowers the threshold by a couple of degrees. 

Bryson said the Road Commission has looked into salt alternatives, like beet juice, but none of the alternatives are cost effective.

“We have our own brine wells. The only cost to us is operating the brine wells, and it’s fairly inexpensive,” Bryson said.

Oakland County roads are prioritized based on the amount of traffic per lane. Critical roads — including Orchard Lake and Middlebelt roads — have at least 10,000 vehicles driving each lane per day. Roads that carry 2,500 vehicles per lane per day are the next priority. The Road Commission will attend to critical roads first when winter maintenance is needed. 

The city of Orchard Lake’s Department of Public Works has used about 200 tons of salt to date this winter, according to City Services Director Gerry McCallum. On average, the city uses about 500 tons of salt during the winter season.

“We’re probably about half right now, and we have a couple months left,” McCallum said. “If things stay status quo and we don’t have any major snowstorms, then our budget should be in pretty good shape.”

The city’s road maintenance budget is split into two categories: major roads and local roads. At this time, the budget for purchasing salt for both major and local roads is down by about 35 percent, McCallum said. But the winter season isn’t over, he added.

Keego Harbor budgets about $3,000 for salt. At the beginning of the winter season, the city had about 100 tons of salt, and it has used roughly 60 percent of it to date. After the next time the Department of Public Works has to salt the city roads, City Manager Linda Voll said, the city will be ordering more salt.

The city also supplies salt to the city of Sylvan Lake, which doesn’t have a salt barn to store and protect the salt. Voll said Keego Harbor then bills Sylvan Lake for its portion of the salt. 

By the end of the season, Keego Harbor tries to ensure that the city has enough salt in the salt barn to start the next winter season, Voll said.

A Sylvan Lake representative did not respond to a request for comment by press time.