Norwin road crews enter season with more stored salt
Public-works directors in Norwin communities were poised to put last winter’s seemingly never-ending snowfalls behind them and begin looking toward a more “normal” winter this year.
Then about 7 feet of snow buried the Buffalo, N.Y., area last week.
“We went through a pretty rough winter last year, so when you hear about that much snow falling north of us, it can be a little worrisome,” said Rich Albert, North Huntingdon’s director of public works. “We’re well stocked with road salt, but I’m hoping that what happened in Buffalo isn’t some sort of indication of what we might be in for here.”
Albert ordered 2,500 tons of salt in the spring in anticipation of a price increase and then filled the township storage facility off Route 30 to its 6,000 ton capacity and stashed another 500 tons under tarpaulins. The price of salt this year jumped by $10 a ton to $62, he said.
Under the terms of the state contract through which North Huntingdon buys road salt, the municipality is obligated to buy at least 60 percent of the amount it orders and can buy as much as 40 percent more than was ordered, said Albert, adding that he put in an order this year for 10,000 tons.
“We try to be conservative with the salt we use, but it can go fast, especially on days when we have to go out and salt the roads several times,” he said.
It takes about 150 tons of salt to make a single pass along the township’s 160 miles of roads, he said.
Salt supplies also can be gobbled up by what Albert described as “nuisance snow.”
“We need at least 3 or 4 inches of snow before we can start plowing,” he said. “So on the days when the roads are slick from an inch or two of snow, all we can do is treat it with salt.”
To reduce the amount of wear or damage to plow blades, a “shoe” is attached to the bottom of the blade so it does not actually touch the road surface.
To improve the efficiency of the salt that is spread, township crews spray a brine solution onto the roadway to help the salt stick to the surface, Albert said.
Crews, however, avoid using anti-skid material such as crushed slag or sand because “the cost and effort of having to clean it up in the spring doesn’t make it worthwhile,” Albert said.
Irwin public-works Superintendent Jim Halfhill said the borough is starting this winter with twice as much salt as it had this time last year.
“We have 400 tons on hand, which is up by 200 tons over last year,” Halfhill said. “We created a space in the public-works yard where we can store the extra salt under a tarp. I think we’re about as ready as we can be.”
The borough, which is responsible for snow removal along 18 miles of roadway, has reserved 1,300 tons of salt and must buy at least 80 percent of that amount, Halfill said. If it needs more, an additional 30 percent can be ordered through its contract.
Last year, the borough went through between 1,700 and 1,800 tons, Halfhill said.
“We’re storing more salt because part of the problem we had last year was that it can take seven days before we get a delivery after an order is placed,” Halfhill said. “If it runs out, and you get snow before the delivery arrives, you’re out of luck.”
Though he would like to avoid running out of salt, Halfhill said he doesn’t like to skimp on the amount that is used.
“Our main concern is public safety, so we work to make sure that the firefighters, police and ambulances can get where they need to go,” he said. “We tend to spread a little more salt at intersections and the bottom of hills.”
Halfhill said one way he tries to conserve the salt supply is to equip the borough’s three snowplow trucks with carbide blades that don’t have a protective shoe along the bottom edge.
“We found that we can get by with a little less salt by getting the plow blade right down onto the surface of the road,” said Halfhill, adding that if salt supplies start to dwindle and more is not readily available, anti-skid material can be mixed in.
The major downside to using snowplows without shoes attached is that drivers have to dodge manhole covers and sewer grates, Halfhill said.
“In the cold weather, the asphalt shrinks, leaving the metal a little bit higher,” he said. “So we have to be extra careful not to tear up the blades.”
A regular 9-foot steel plow blade costs about $300. A similarly sized carbide blade is $1,000, Halfhill said.
North Irwin Councilman Ron Brown said the borough has ordered about 350 tons of salt and already has taken delivery of about 70 tons.
“Most years, we only buy about 60 percent of the amount we order, but last year was pretty abnormal. We took all that we ordered because we were worried that it might not be available when we needed it,” said Brown, adding that if the supply starts to run low this year, anti-skid material will be mixed in with salt to extend coverage.
North Irwin’s two plow trucks are equipped with blades that do not have a protective shoe, Brown said.
One adjustment the borough made this year is the location of the salt supply it relies upon to keep it’s 5.5 miles of road navigable.
The bridge connecting Fourth Street and Broadway Avenue is closed, which means the road crew would have to follow an eight-mile detour through Irwin and North Huntingdon to reach its salt-storage facility.
To address the problem, the salt will be stored under tarpaulins in a lot at the end of Third Street.
While Brown is hoping that Western Pennsylvania doesn’t get hit with the type of heavy snow that blanketed Buffalo, the weather incident is on his mind.
“When you hear about something like that, it reminds you that anything can happen,” Brown said.
Tony LaRussa is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at [email protected].