Local crews face challenges with icy road conditions

MARSHALL – It’s not been an extremely snowy winter so far for the Marshall area. However, when the temperature drops and the wind picks up, as it did Thursday night, things can get pretty slippery. And while city and county road crews are dealing with the ice, it can come with its own set of challenges.

Lyon County Highway Engineer Aaron VanMoer said highway crews were out spreading road salt and sand on trouble spots and at intersections early Friday morning, in response to Thursday’s winter weather. However, he said it’s been a relatively mild winter so far for county roads. It’s partly because there hasn’t been much snow and partly because of January’s subzero temperatures.

“There hasn’t been much snow melting and freezing on the road and making drifts,” VanMoer said. “We’ve had considerably less snowplowing than expected.”

Lyon County also appears to have missed the worst of the storms Thursday, he said.

“I talked to some people east of here in Redwood County, and they had some pretty tough conditions,” VanMoer said.

Within the city of Marshall, Public Works Director Glenn Olson said city crews were also dealing with ice on streets, especially in the outlying areas of town that are more exposed to the wind.

When there are icy road conditions, “There’s a little extra maintenance required,” Olson said. That includes spreading a salt/sand mixture to improve traction for vehicles. Depending on how cold conditions are, the sand can be more effective than the salt.

“Generally speaking, anything zero degrees and above works well” for road salt to be effective, Olson said. On days with sub-zero temperatures, the ice just won’t melt. Olson said the salt/sand mix the city uses contains only about 10 percent salt – just enough to keep the sand from freezing.

“We do mix in some additional salt before it’s spread on the road,” Olson said.

One of the biggest challenges for clearing city streets in a cold and icy winter is maintaining supplies of salt and sand. Olson said Marshall’s supplies have gotten low.

“We’re about out,” he said. Compounding the challenge is that demand for road salt is high throughout much of the U.S. right now. “The price of salt has gone up dramatically.”

Olson said this means city crews are using salt conservatively. He said the city will also be careful about not purchasing more salt than necessary, to avoid the pinch of high prices.

Fortunately, Olson said, recent weather conditions haven’t been a strain on the city’s snow and ice removal budget so far.

“The street maintenance funding cycle is from January to December, so the impact is less now,” Olson said. The lack of heavy snowfall this winter has also cut down on plowing and staff overtime costs, he said.

VanMoer said the county still has a stockpile of salt and sand. Another positive side effect of low temperatures and little snow is that there’s less need for road salt, he said. As long as the highway surface stays cold and dry, blowing snow is less likely to collect on the road.