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Go rub salt

Is it just me, or am I the only one that has noticed that there seems to be a much greater amount of road salt being used this winter?Or maybe it is magnesium chloride, or some other fancy chemical, w...


Is it just me, or am I the only one that has noticed that there seems to be a much greater amount of road salt being used this winter?

Or maybe it is magnesium chloride, or some other fancy chemical, which has really gained popularity with road crews in recent years.

Regardless of what it is … I don’t like it and hold the opinion that there should be a ‘sand only’ mandate for the majority of Canadian highways.

I take this stance for a number of reasons, the primary reason being safety, but also cost, abuse on equipment, and environmental concerns that can’t be overlooked.

Of course the only reason there is anything dumped on highways at all during poor weather is to ensure the safe travel of the general public.

However, having driven more miles than I care to admit, I do feel the simple-minded goal of trying to attain bare asphalt at any cost is not only misguided but also is a major hindrance to safety itself.

In cold weather (-10C or below) it is absolutely mind boggling to watch a Department of Highways truck dumping a stream of salt down the road.

Any chemist, or truck driver for that matter, will tell you that salt doesn’t work in cold temperatures.

Frankly, if the ambient temperature is cold enough to prevent snow from melting then there should be absolutely nothing dumped on the roads, except for sand where traction problems might appear such as on corners and/or grades.

Not dumping anything allows what moisture there is on the road to dissipate and any accumulated snow blows off either by passing vehicles, or courtesy of Mother Nature.

However, when the road crews decide to salt a road it obviously tries to melt whatever is there and becomes wet.

At this point in the commute, visibility, or more appropriately, lack thereof, can become a very serious problem, especially at night.

Dirty headlights, windshield wipers and mirrors can make it nearly impossible to see anything, especially considering the likelihood that the last maintenance truck dumped sand and one is therefore literally driving through a shower of muddy salt water.

Unfortunately, snow that is blowing or still falling will collect on a wet surface and thus the creation of massive quantities of more water – or even ice – has begun, making the problem far worse.

However, if sand is poured, it still allows the snow to blow off, it allows for much more favorable visibility conditions and it also provides traction regardless of what may be left on the road surface.

Sand prevents the need to have bare asphalt.

Thus if there is heavy snowfall, sand will prevent the creation of ice, while still offering traction and providing all the safety any safety-conscious driver will require.

I do however acknowledge that in some cases, especially in extremely highly travelled areas, such as southern Ontario for example, salt or some competing chloride may become a necessity.

However areas such as Northern Ontario and 99 per cent of Western Canada only need these now toxic substances in rare cases – rather than on a regular sustained basis.

It is also somewhat perplexing why, in these times of tightened budgets, there is not more praise lumped on sand for being an economical alternative.

I would be willing to bet that in practically ever county in Canada there is a sand pit that could be used for roads, and if there isn’t, the cost of trucking it in would be less than other products.

Granted, one of my biggest concerns with the use of road salt and/or chlorides is the wear and tear on my equipment.

There is nothing quite like paying a small fortune for something only to be forced to drive through a shower of salt water which does damage to every conceivable part of a vehicle.

Wiring, paint, metal integrity, and hoses, just to name a few, can all be compromised by a steady diet of road salt.

The replacement of lights and the occasional windshield from the use of sand/pea gravel is a mere pittance compared to the replacement cost of the whole unit due to excessive corrosion and deterioration caused by road salt.

Last, but certainly not least one has to consider the serious and I am sure detrimental effect massive quantities of salt has on the environment.

It doesn’t take much to imagine many of these fresh water, fish bearing streams that flow near the roads are developing a soluble level much higher than we as humans would ever accept in our drinking water.

I would certainly encourage our nation’s leaders to push for a nationwide ban on road salt or at the very least a very strict usage policy with clear guidelines on the use of chlorides for road clearing.

The ends do not necessarily justify the means, in the vast majority of accidents the problem was not the road surface, but rather the driver.

– Dave Holleman is an over-the-road owner/operator and a monthly contributor to Truck News.


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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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