Resolving the issues
There are three issues of greatest saliency: 1) measuring highway performance with regard to maintaining roadway levels of service, avoiding congestion and/or an increase in traffic crash rates, 2) integrating snow and ice control into safety plans and 3) achieving sound salt management practices by those charged with removing snow and ice from roadways and parking lots, what we call “Sensible Salting.” Sensible Salting is the use of the minimum amount of salt required to achieve the twin goals of safety and usability.
Measuring roadway operating performance
As a society, we have invested heavily in our roadway network and continue to invest further each year to maintain and operate it for its critical function: delivering people and goods safely and reliably. Operating our roads is how we realize the dividends of jobs, prosperity, and the myriad joys of our mobile lifestyle; these are our objectives in building roads in the first place. When roads are closed or congested, our investment pays no dividends. We lose money and pollute our air with roadway congestion. We lose jobs to more efficient economic competitors if workers and raw materials cannot reach factories and if shoppers cannot shop. We lose loved ones when emergency fire, police and medical response is slowed by closed or congested roads. Transportation professionals recognize the challenge of operating our road system efficiently and are developing sophisticated technologies and systems to measure roadway operating performance, the essential first step to rectifying operating problems.
In the area of winter operations, there is developing consensus that roadway surface friction coefficient is the best indicator of operating success. Preventing slippery conditions through effective performance of snow and ice removal operations preserves reliable service on free-flowing roads without an increase in vehicle crashes. We need to encourage the research which is already underway into new technologies to measure surface friction widely during all weather conditions.
Integrating snow and ice control into safety plans
Each U.S. state prioritizes roadway safety and has a formal written plan describing the priorities of its efforts to reduce the deadly toll on its roads. Snow and ice control programs should be part of that formal plan, recognizing the consensus that winter operations service reduces crash and injury incidence. Integrating winter operations into the safety plan will remind policy-makers of the vital contribution that clearing roads of ice and snow makes to achieving roadway safety goals.
Achieving Sensible Salting
Applying salt as part of a comprehensive winter operations program is a priority in snowbelt communities. The challenge is to apply the right amount of material at the right place at the right time. Meeting that challenge on the roadway requires professional management of an entire supply chain of salt stretching back to the mine or saltworks that produced it. Snowplow/spreaders must be able to access the salt when they respond to snow emergencies. That means the agency must have proper equipment, trained operators, and sufficient supplies properly stored. And that means that agencies must build proper storage and work together with salt suppliers to make sure sufficient quantities are delivered before they are needed.
Snowfighting is a profession and the key to success in overcoming unpredictable winter storms is preparation. Professionals make sure equipment operators know their job since it is the operators who not only labor long hours in difficult conditions, but make many of the important decisions that determine how well roads perform during winter storms. Training programs and materials are available; the challenge is to ensure that training actually occurs so that operators understand their responsibilities and the consequences in impaired roadway safety and environmental degradation if they fail to exercise appropriate judgment. In short, effective snowfighting requires Sensible Salting. And Sensible Salting requires:
Comprehensive planning for winter operations. The Salt Institute recommends all managers and supervisors keep abreast of developments in the snowfighting profession.
Sufficient and environmentally-sensitive agency salt storage. Proper storage is in proper buildings, if possible, and the Salt Institute recommends every agency take delivery of a full average season’s requirements before the first winter storm.
Well-trained equipment operators. The Salt Institute recommends each operator be trained each year with more extensive training provided to first-winter operators.