Relentless winter forces departments to stretch, replenish salt supplies

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Jan. 31, 2014) — January’s heavy snowfall and extreme temperatures depleted many departments’ salt supplies for treating roadways.

The Indianapolis Department of Public works has already used 42,000 tons of salt this season, costing about $3 million. During a typical winter, the department uses 33,000 tons of salt. The challenge now is the high demand for salt nationwide.

DPW has about 5,000 tons of salt stocked in its barns. It takes about 500 tons to treat 1-3 inches of snowfall.

“We continue to place orders and receive deliveries from venders around the country. We are working constantly to make sure deliveries outpace the rate at which we’re dropping salt on roads. So far, we’re keeping up,” said Stephanie Wilson with DPW.

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) which is responsible for maintaining state highways, is in a similar position. There is a large stockpile of salt, but during this unpredictable winter, it’s hard to know how long it’ll last.

“Certainly if February is anything like January, then we’re going to be having a different conversation. January definitely depleted a lot of our resources and it was a record winter weather month,” said Nathan Riggs with INDOT. “We saw record conditions, record snowfall and the very, very low temperatures make the material less effective, so we tend to use more.

INDOT has spent $31 million so far this winter as crews logged 4.3 million miles on the roads.  INDOT’s winter budget for fuel costs, paying crews and purchasing supplies is $38 million. The budget is somewhat flexible, Riggs said, because it also includes summer road projects. If necessary, the department could borrow from the summer budget.

County highway departments across central Indiana are also struggling with the balance of using supplies, ordering supplies, and wondering if more salt will come in on time.

Hamilton County received a fresh salt delivery Thursday, but it wasn’t the full amount officials have ordered through their supplier.  Brad Davis with Hamilton County said to make the salt they do have last, they’re mixing in sand and using a calcium chloride mixture.

Hendricks County is mixing up a similar solution to use less salt and officials with the highway department said they’ve placed orders for more salt but are waiting on those orders to be filled. Highway Department Superintendent Curt Higginbotham said Hendricks County has enough reserve salt ad supplies to cover three or four more snow events.

Lucas Mastin, the Johnson County Highway Department Director, said it’s just hard to say if they have enough supplies to last the rest of the season. He is looking into purchasing salt through private distributors if they can’t get what they need fast enough from major distributors.