Snow removal crews have spread more than 114,000 tons of salt, sand, cinders and crushed stone on Washington area roadways so far this winter, costing at least $5.3 million in the most extravagant winter in recent memory.
Stockpiles of salt - they key substance used to melt hazardous ice on roads - were reported running low in some areas yesterday, especially in suburban Virginia, but most road officials said they expect to get through the rest of the winter with prudent use of supplies.
A series of seven snowfalls since early January, combined with lower than normal temperatures, has kept snow and ice on the ground almost continuously in many sections of the metropolitan area.
The National Weather Service last night posted yet another winter storm watch for today, calling for an 80 per cent chance of snow during the afternoon and evening.
Road crews have been called out repeatedly to remove new snow, and the costs for material, equipment and overtime wages have exceeded budgets in some jurisdictions.
"This is the worst (winter) we've had since at least 1970 in terms of snow removal," said D.J. O'Donnell, deputy director of the D.C. Transportation Department. "Temperatures have stayed low and the snow has stayed on the ground."
"We've only got little over 300 tons (of salt) on hand," said Don Keith of the Virginia Highway Department's regional headquarters for Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Arlington public works officials reported they have only about 100 tons left for county-maintained roads.
Keith said more salt is on the way butis dribbling in by individual truck loads.
Most salt here comes from three major suppliers in Baltimore where stockpiles also are reportedly running low as demand has soared and transportation of the salt by truck and rail from mines in some northern states has been hampered by severe winter storms.
"We have pretty well depleted what we have of domestic salt," said Al Krall, spokesman for the International Salt Co. in Baltimore," . . . but some is one the way by railroad from New York."
He said deep snow drifts and freezing rail switches have slowed shipment of rock salt form International's "Retsof" mine about 45 miles south of Rochester, N.Y.
International also manufactures some "solar" salt - salt extracted from sea water by natural evaporation - in the Netherland Antilles in the Caribbean. A small shipment of 6,000 tons is expected Sunday, Krall said.
A spot check of D.C. and major Maryland and Virginia suburban jurisdictions shows that at least 114,250 tons of salt and other abrasives have been spread by road crews so far this season. This includes 72,236 tons of salt, 23,979 tons of sand and 18,035 tons of cinders, crushed stone and combined salt and cinders.
To do the job, almost 1,000 plows, spreaders and vehicles manned and supervised by more than 1,500 workers have treated some 3,100 miles of roadways at an areawide cost of at least $5,310,560.
"We had $303,000 budgeted for snow removal this year," said O'Donnell of the D.C. Transportation Department "but I expect we'll spend close to $2 million by the end of the season."
The city had already spent $1.7 million prior to the most recent snowstorm on Feb. 13, O'Donnell said.
In contrast, he said, the city budgeted $378,300 for snow removal last season - also a harsh winter - but spent only $921,403. The year before that, when the winter was mild, "we had a budget of lessthan $500,000 and stayed within it."
O'Donnell estimates the city has already spread 27,000 tons of salt and 3,500 tons of sand on some 450 miles of streets. During a full operation, the Transportation Department deploys 87 spreaders and plows, plus 130 private contract plows and 30 other vehicles from the Department of Environmental Services, he said.
In Montgomery County, highway maintenance chief Jim Arnault estimates crews have spread 4,058 tons of salt, 6,007 tons of sand and 2,229 tons of crushed stone on 491 miles of county-mainted roads. The cost: about $5599,560.
In Prince George's County, roads and bridges chief William Boyce says crews have treated some 650 miles of roads with 10,906 tons of salt, 1,000 tons of sand, 3,800 tons cinders and 1,700itons of cinders mixed with salt. The cost: about $622,000.
In addition to county-maintained roads, Maryland State Highway Administration crews treated about 750 miles of state roads in the two counties with 17,263 tons of salt and 10,306 tons of cinders, according to state spokesman Slade Caltrider. The cost: about $1,70,000.
In suburban Virginai, Keith of he state Highway Department estimates 11,959 tons of salt and 12,472 tons of sand were spread on about 600 miles of roads in Arlington and Fairfax counties. The cost: about $1,100,000.
Alexandria maintenance superintendent Forrest Dishman estimates 1,050 tons of salt and 1,000 tons of said were spread on 165 miles of roads. The cost: about $119,000.
The areawide total of $5.3 million expended so far compares with New York City's annual snow removal budget of $5 million but is dwarfed, for example by Montreal's budget of $31 million. Chicago's snow operations budget this year is $2 million.
The spreading of massive amounts of salf each winteriinvaribaly generates complainsts from motorists and environmentalists who contend the salt rusts cars, corrodes and weakens the reinforcing steel rods of bridges and ramps and seeps into public water supplies.
The Salt Institute, a trade association of the major salt producers, acknowledges that these are real problems but says steps have been taken in recent years to solve them.
Cars are being designed now to minimize rusting by improved drainage from the undercarriage and the use of superior paint, galvanized steel and other noncorrosive metals, said Salt Institute spokesman Lincoln Harner.
Corrosion of bridges and ramps by salt seeping through cracks in the concrete to the reinforcing steel rods is being stopped in several ways, Harner said, including the application of epoxy resin around the steel rods and waterproof membranes under asphalt street surfaces.
O'Donnel of the D.C. Transportation Department said both of these measures are being taken with the current redecking of the South Capital Street Bridge and other repair projects in the city.
Seepage of salt into public water supplies has been averted to some extent, Harner said, by improved storage of salt stockpiles in covered, properly drained shelters. He acknowledged that salt runoff from roadsin rural areas occasionally seeps into individual wells.