After a winter of record breaking cold and mass amounts of snow and ice, the McLean County Highway Garage is running short on salt for the roads.
The shortage is not due to budget issues or lack of employees; it has to do with delivery complications. Despite the warmer weather in the past week, the barges that carry most of the salt are having trouble traveling up the river due to parts that are still frozen and low river levels.
“It’s nothing to do with money, in this case we have salt budgeted, it’s just an inability to deliver,” said Mark Leake, highway maintenance coordinator in McLean County.
Each year, McLean County budgets and stock piles salt to last throughout the winter. It bases needs off of average winter snow fall and ice.
This winter broke records set in the early 1960s for snowfall with 46.5 inches so far. More salt had to be used this year, and the county only has about an eighth of the salt that it normally keeps stocked. This means that the roads may not be properly salted in the event of more snowstorms this year.
McLean County has contracts with salt companies to provide salt locally, but even the salt companies are running low on salt due to a higher than normal demand this winter.
“We have been conserving all season but especially since we have had strong storms … we have been limiting the salt spread,” said Wayne Aldrich, director of public works in Normal.
Salt is used more sparingly in different areas locally. The county does not use as much salt as city public works crews because winds in rural areas will usually blow the salt away.
Leake says that sleet and light snow can be more of a problem to clear from the roads than heavy snowfall because plows can clear the snow. For light snow and ice, salt is the best resort for keeping the roads safe.
The warmer weather has accelerated the melting process and the sun is helping in the removal of leftover snow as pavements are warmer.
“We’ve been cutting back and salting less because it’s been a little warmer, the sun is helping,” Leake said.
The challenges lately have been keeping the large amounts of water flowing properly to ditches, he added. Keeping the culverts open to allow for water to naturally flow is key as of now.
Another challenge has been the overtime hours that employees have been working. So far, workers have worked 80 of the 89 days of winter in order to keep the roads safe.
Overtime hours are based on average hours that crews put in. This year they have exceeded the overtime budget, which is not typical with the season.
The budget for this is cushioned by the fact that it is spread over two years and will all depend on the upcoming weather.