The city of Madison snow removal and road salt application strategies have been tested so far this winter as polar vortexes sweep through the Midwest.
Recent winter storm fronts have brought to Madison sub-zero temperatures and wind chills along with seemingly constant snow accumulations, Madison Streets Superintendent Chris Kelley said.
This combination has amounted to more extreme weather conditions this winter as compared to years past, he said.
“We have had a lot of small snow events this year instead of a few large events and so we have spread salt 32 times this season as compared to seven last year,” Kelley said. “It is basically been constant since it started back on Dec. 2 and going nonstop since then.”
Kelley said the city uses 300 pounds of salt for every two-lane mile stretch of roadway but, because salt is a cause for worry in the environment and the quality of drinking water, has been using sand at times as a substitute for rock salt.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said the city is doing its best to create safe travel conditions, given the extreme weather conditions and city limitations on the use of rock salt.
Verveer said the location of Madison set between two lakes makes rock salt application difficult at times.
“While around hospitals, schools and fire stations are among the most important places to put down salt, Madison uses less salt than other communities in an attempt to balance road safety and the health of the lakes,” Verveer said. “Our lakes are our greatest resource and so citywide policy really tries to limit the amount of salt that is used to avoid runoff into the lakes.”
As more snowstorms occur, though, the more salt or other snow removing material the city will need to put on the roads, Kelly said.
According to Kelly, the City of Madison takes the responsibility of protecting its lakes seriously and there are available alternatives to increased salt application.
“Salt doesn’t work below 15 degrees below so we have been trying to use sand on hill, curves, intersections and even some main streets,” Kelley said.
Verveer said that given the unique nature of Madison’s location, this might also be an opportunity for Madison to look into alternatives to rock salt application for snow removal.
Verveer said the city could use brine, a cheese manufacturing byproduct, in the future to de-ice roadways and sidewalks.
According to Verveer, each year the city allocates millions of dollars for snow removal and uses large amounts of salt. He said the roads should be in good shape for the rest of the winter.
“The city does a very good job with our snow and ice removal and those in charge certainly have tons of experience given the climate here,” Verveer said. “We do a good job under trying circumstances and constraints regarding the lakes.”
Metro Transit spokesperson Mick Rusch said during snowstorms the busses will still be running but potentially at a slower rate. According to him, there are two phone applications telling people the most up-to-date bus times.