Salt storage barns: The key to safe winter roads

snow-truckFor most of us, if we ever think about salt storage, the salt shaker on our table probably comes to mind. However, for your local road and transportation department, salt storage is all about keeping road salt properly covered and safe so it is available for the department to use when it starts to snow.

At first glance, it is easy to wonder why road salt needs any sort of special storage, but digging a little deeper into that road salt stockpile soon shows why good storage practices can be extremely important. Proper use of road salt as part of a winter maintenance program can reduce crashes by between 85 and 88 percent, according to a Marquette University study. Furthermore, the use of road salt ensures roads stay open and deliveries are made, avoiding losses to state economies that can run in the hundreds of millions of dollars every day, according to a IHS Global Insight study.

The need for proper salt storage

So it is no real surprise, as we approach the winter season, that agencies are giving significant thought to proper salt storage. For example, the City of Geneva in Ohio is planning to construct a new salt storage facility that will be able to hold six times as much salt (1,800 tons) compared to the old facility that could only store 300 tons. Not only will this provide a sustainable salt storage solution for the city, it will also give them enough storage that they will no longer have to rely on mid-winter deliveries of salt. Previously, in bad winters, they needed salt to be delivered in the middle of winter when, of course, delivery is likely to be most difficult. That can cause a lot of nervous worry about whether or not the salt will arrive in time, and when the new storage facility comes on line, those worries will no longer be a concern!

Sometimes, state departments of transportation (DOT) will need to build new storage facilities to make their operations more efficient. This has been happening in Tennessee at exit 158 on Interstate 24. A planned new facility there will greatly improve efficiency for the Tennessee DOT— instead of their trucks needing to “deadhead” (run back empty) to another facility nearly 80 minutes away, they will be able to get reloaded and back on the road in less than 40 minutes. That means more time for the trucks on the road, keeping those roads safe and passable, and thus protecting the traveling public during winter storms.

An ideal storage barn solution

It would be easy to think of a salt storage shed as just a building with an impermeable floor, but a look at the facility in Fort Collins, Colorado shows that it can involve a great deal more than that. Larry Schneider, director of the city’s streets department and his team put a great deal of planning, about five years’ worth, into their salt storage facility. They have doors at both ends of their building so they can access salt to fill city trucks at one end, and get salt to make salt brine at the other end without any interference. They load their salt through a conveyor system, that simultaneously weighs the salt as it is loaded into the dome, coats it with a special liquid so it is more effective, and places it in the right place in the dome to ensure they make use of all the space in the building.

The city’s liquids program uses a special dispensing station, a bit like a series of fuel pumps, so that a number of trucks can fill up with the right brine at the same time. They even took care to make sure the doors in the salt building faced away from the prevailing wind direction, to make the handling process easier during winter storms. All that planning means trucks can fill up quickly and efficiently in the middle of the night during storms (and of course, during the day too!) and that the city can keep a close track on the salt and brine they use for their winter maintenance. As Schneider says “we can’t manage it if we don’t measure it.” And a good salt storage barn helps them to keep track of the whole process!

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