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High demand for road salt prompts rationing in Md., Va.

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; 6:24 PM

With a surge in the demand for salt and reports of long lines of trucks waiting to replenish their supplies, transportation agencies in Maryland and Virginia are taking steps to conserve the mineral to battle the second wave of snow in a week.

That could mean longer for the mess to be cleared, but it's better than running out, said Joan Morris, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"We're going to be more frugal with it, meaning it might take a little longer to burn off," Morris said. "We don't want to find ourselves at the bottom of the pile."

Since the weekend storm, which has kept road crews busy for days trying to rid the streets of compacted snow and ice, hundreds of trucks have been traveling to and from salt supply sites, many loading up at the Port of Baltimore, a main hub for the region's supply. One VDOT official said that for several days straight, trucks have been sitting in eight- to 10-hour lines to refill there. Another said waits have been long in Chesapeake and Roanoke, as well.

While officials say local stockpiles appear sufficient for this week's storm, some agencies will be using salt more sparingly given the difficulties of resupplying.

Supplies are sufficient in the District, with 9,000 tons on hand Tuesday afternoon and more expected to arrive later in the day, so it won't be necessary to ration, said John Lisle, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation.

In Northern Virginia, it's a different story, officials said.

"We have enough for a couple of days, but that's about it," said Branco Vlacich, district maintenance engineer for VDOT in Northern Virginia. "We're not spreading it like we would normally."

Vlacich said the agency usually disperses 425 pounds of salt per lane mile but has reduced that amount to 350.

Maryland State Highway Administration officials say they have about 50 percent their 350,000-ton salt capacity on hand.

"We believe that if we are judicious in our use that we will have enough for this storm," said Maryland State Highway Administrator Neil J. Pedersen.

Officials said the snow removal effort will be helped because freezing rain is not in the forecast, which would require more salt to combat.

Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, questioned the wisdom of holding back on salt.

"I'm really not sympathetic when they say they're trying to conserve their supply," Anderson said. "Conserve for what? Next week's snow that may or may not happen? They need to do what they need to do to keep us moving today and tomorrow. . . . Mother Nature has come prepared for war. Looks like our local governments want to hold the troops back some."

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