Although winter precipitation fell in the Tri-Lakes Area Tuesday, most entities so far this winter have had to spend less time and money than usual clearing roads.
Last week, the Missouri Department of Transportation utilized an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 tons of salt to treat roads throughout the 21-county southwest district, according to Michael Middleton, the district’s maintenance engineer.
Middleton said the district typically starts the season with 25,000 tons of salt on hand.
The state seeks bids in the summer for fall deliveries for rock salt for road treatment.
“The winter of 2011-2012 was very mild and we didn’t have to order any additional,” Middleton said. “Twenty-five thousand tons is our 10-year average, so we use that as the starting point.”
Rick Ziegenfuss, city administrator for Hollister, said the city has about 96 tons of salt on hand. Last week’s snow and ice was removed from roads using a ton of salt and city vehicles.
“We used no overtime,” Ziegenfuss said. “We had a very well-behaved storm. “It started after we came to work and ended before we went home.”
With salt costing $60 a ton, crews everywhere are as stingy as possible, Middleton said.
“That’s the same price as asphalt, so it’s a huge commodity and we want to use it appropriately in the right places at the right time,” he said.
Ladona Weathers, with the city of Branson, said the city has to pay not only for materials and personnel, but also for fuel costs for trucks and for the delivery of materials.
Branson uses salt, rock chips and beet juice to clear the approximately 150 miles of roads its crews maintain.
“The city keeps a supply on hand and orders when it’s needed,” Weathers said. “We did have quite a bit left over from last year.”
She said crews used 20 tons of salt, 30 tons of rock chips and 500 gallons of beet juice last week.
“Everyone thinks if you have a mild winter you save all this money and put it right to pavement,” Middleton said. “But my budget is appropriated like any other state budget. I budget my expenditures in the fall for salt.”
Weathers, meanwhile, said Branson operates on a calendar year budget cycle, meaning winter weather could become an issue at both the beginning and end of the budget year.
Middleton said if he has to purchase an entire reserve of salt, it’d cost him roughly $2 million.
“Anything less than that is something I can put to the roadway, so if I come out of this year with 20,000 tons of salt on hand, I’ll save $1 million to $1.2 million. and that money will be directly used for asphalt to be placed in the summer of 2014.”
Weathers said any money not spent on road clearing by Branson would be returned to the city’s general fund for use the following year, as well.
“It’s always a revolving budget with how that happens,” Middleton said.
In addition to watching budgets, road departments also tweak their plans to improve efficiency.
“Taney County Road and Bridge strives to maintain roads to the best of our ability,” said Randy Haes, road and bridge administrator for the county. “Our equipment is repaired and materials stockpiled before winter.
“When a storm is projected by the National Weather Service, we prepare equipment and schedule workers,” Haes said.
Personnel, materials and the road vehicles are the largest portion of road-clearing costs, Weathers said.
For Branson, that includes the beet juice, which she said is more environmentally friendly, but also more expensive, than using just salt and rock.
“The crews want to make sure they’re good stewards,” Weathers said. “The public works department has to almost be meteorologists in their own right to figure out the best time to apply treatments. There’s a lot of work that goes into it to make sure all those dollars are used to the best of their ability.”
Danny Strahan, Taney County commissioner, said the county’s new barn in Mount Branson added to the coverage the county is able to provide between the eastern and western districts of the county.
“The efficiency of road and bridge, to the general public, is a reminder of how an efficient county government runs,” Strahan said.
Middleton said MoDOT has a number of salt storage facilities around the district, including in Nevada, Joplin and Branson.
“We really try to have it so that every building is sitting with its own 10-year average (supply of salt),” he said.
As part of the agency’s Bolder Five Year Direction, a number of facilities around the state were closed last year.