CEDAR RAPIDS — A University of Iowa professor is trying to help transportation departments in several states prevent overuse of road salt during the winter months. Professor Wilfrid Nixon, a civil and environmental engineer, has been working with the Illinois DOT to develop training that will help salt truck operators determine when and where salt should be applied, and in the proper quantities.
Nixon is also working with the Clear Roads consortium — a group of state DOTs — to develop a “best practices” manual for road salt usage. He is in Washington, D.C. this week, making presentations on the subject at the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference.
“There are times when you need to leave it in the toolbox and do other things,” Nixon said via Skype on Monday. He said many road departments struggle when it comes to the timing of salt use. “If you have very cold pavement temperatures, as we did for example in our storm last week, then salt becomes ineffective at those temperatures.”
This winter, the Iowa DOT unveiled an online map with snow plow locations and pictures from cameras to show road conditions and give drivers a better idea of which roads were clear.
“I will tell you that my colleagues from Europe are so envious of what the Iowa DOT is doing,” Nixon said.
Cedar Rapids’ streets department doesn’t have anything quite as sophisticated, but superintendent Mike Duffy said a little planning goes a long way.
“It’s our supervisors really looking at the operators and the equipment when it goes out, making sure our gates aren’t so high that we’re letting so much of that material out the back of the truck,” Duffy explained.
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Nixon is now working with several state transportation departments — including Iowa’s — to develop a “best practices” manual for efficient road salt use. He hopes that will eventually ease pressure on salt demand, improve water quality, and give taxpayers a break.
“You’re going to need less salt, which means less loading on the environment, which means less cost overall, and probably the cost per ton,” Nixon told us.