Severe winter conditions lead to increased salt use

January 10, 2014
Peters Township road crew worker Joe Wilson, left, watches as co-worker Rickey Wright uses a front-end loader to load salt into the bed of a township truck at the Peters Township maintenance complex in Peterswood Park Friday. Peters received multiple loads of salt during the day, replenishing the supply. - Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

It’s been a busy winter for state and local road crews, who have worked around the clock at times to keep roads free of snow and ice.

John Stout, the superintendent of Washington’s public works department, said this winter has been brutal.

“We already got 23 inches of snow this winter,” Stout said. “Last winter, we had 59 inches. I wish it was more like 2011, when we only got 17 inches.”

To keep roughly 52 miles of roads safe, Stout said trucks have dumped more than half of the city’s yearly purchase of 18 tons of salt.

“We are using way more than normal this year,” he said. “Last year, it took us until February to use 65 percent of our stockpile. In the past, we hardly used any anti-skid material (the black, rock-like material found on the sides of the roads). This year, we ordered over 400 tons.”

The icy conditions also have put him over budget.

“I’ve exceeded my budget by 228 tons,” he said. “I hope and pray winter throws us a bone.”

Peters Township’s public works director, Peter Overcashier, said his fleet of trucks use roughly 100 tons every time they salt the 126 miles of road the township maintains.

“December was busier than normal,” Overcashier said.

While a shipment can be expensive – salt costs about $56 a ton – Overcashier said he likes to keep a stockpile.

“I don’t like it to get too low.”

His most recent delivery was Friday. Numerous trucks spent hours delivering 500 tons of salt.

Over in Buffalo Township, road crews are still adjusting their salt use. In the past, the township used cinders instead of salt to provide traction.

“Those country roads get pretty slick,” administrative assistant Karen Bedillion said. “We just starting using salt two or three years ago.”

Bedillion said the township ordered 50 tons of salt to maintain 27 miles of road. The township could not provide an estimate of its salt use thus far this winter. Nonetheless, Bedillion was confident they’ll get through the winter.

“Once it’s gone, we’ll reorder,” she said.

The state Department of Transportation also is confident about the winter months still ahead. Valerie Petersen, spokeswoman for PennDOT, said there were “no concerns about salt or anti-skid materials.” Petersen said she was unable to provide the amount of salt used so far.

“But our levels are adequate,” she said. “It’s just hard to say how we are using it.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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