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After storm hits Portland, ODOT to expand use of rock salt


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After snow brought Portland to a standstill this week, state officials have decided to expand the use of rock salt on wintry roads — something many other states have done for decades.

Don Hamilton, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said Friday the department will begin using rock salt during extreme winter conditions in areas that are usually problem areas for motorists during a storm.

Hamilton said it will be done not as a rule of thumb, but on a case by case basis.

Long lines of trucks and cars that were stymied Wednesday by an inch or two of snow brought attention to the Portland area’s difficulties in handling a winter storm.

Oregon has not made general use of rock salt because of environmental concerns, and because winter storms are rare in the most populated areas of the state.

Five years ago, as a pilot project, ODOT begin using rock salt at Oregon’s borders with Nevada, Idaho and California, all states that use salt on their own roads.

Schools across the Portland metro area were closed for another day as below-freezing temperatures prevent ice from melting.

The National Weather Service says Friday ‘s high temperature will be around 32 degrees. It’s expected to warm to the upper 30s Sunday and then hit the 40s on Monday .

It’s a similar story in Eugene, which is enduring its worst ice storms in years. The Register-Guard reports more than 20,000 households in Lane County remained without power late Thursday , and tree branches continued to snap.

ODOT news release:

ODOT expands pilot for using salt in limited situations

Limited use producing major benefit: A requirement for using solid salt

(SALEM) ODOT announced Friday that it is expanding its salt pilot program to include testing the use of solid salt in extreme situations on Oregon freeways where a limited use produces a major benefit to travelers.

ODOT began a salt pilot program in 2012. The 11 southernmost miles of I-5 from the California border and about 120 miles of U.S. 95 in southeastern Oregon have been test beds for using salt in specific situations in order to match pavement conditions with neighboring states. All states bordering Oregon-Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California-use salt.

Building on the pilot, ODOT will consider the use of solid (rock) salt on a very limited, case by case basis on sections of the state freeway system where a limited use can have a major benefit to safety and mobility. Factors include the condition of the road, the weather forecast, temperature, specific characteristics of the storm, ice or snow and the highway’s history. ODOT has very limited availability of solid salt and equipment appropriate to apply it.

“We’re listening to our communities around the state,” said ODOT Highway Division Administrator Paul Mather. “They’ve asked us to at least consider using salt. So we will assess where and when it may be appropriate. We won’t use it on a regular basis. It’s another tool in our tool box, to test in highly specific situations where it can produce a significant benefit.”

One of those situations developed this week on Interstate 5 south of Salem. ODOT maintenance crews spread solid salt on a nine-mile stretch of the highway between mileposts 244 and 253 (from just north of Albany to south Salem), an area of hills and curves that often ices over in storms. In 2012, a snow/ice storm stranded several hundred vehicles along this stretch and this week several hundred vehicles were stopped by the icy highway.

“Expanding our pilot program will help us find the right balance of use,” said Mather. “We’re constantly weighing using solid salt in emergency situations where it can help make a big difference in safe travel, and minimizing the environmental and economic damage salt can cause. Our use of solid salt will be surgical. It will help us learn where it can be used effectively and appropriately.”

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