Government

Iowa DOT seeks $8.7 million to restock salt supplies

A truck delivers a load of salt at the City Services Center in Cedar Rapids in January in preparation for a winter storm. The Iowa Department of Transportation is seeking a special appropriation of $8.7 million to restock its salt supplies. (The Gazette)
A truck delivers a load of salt at the City Services Center in Cedar Rapids in January in preparation for a winter storm. The Iowa Department of Transportation is seeking a special appropriation of $8.7 million to restock its salt supplies. (The Gazette)

State transportation officials say they need more than $8 million to stock Iowa’s salt supplies before next winter.

The Iowa Department of Transportation has asked legislators to approve a special appropriation of $8.7 million from the state’s primary road fund to buy salt.

Andrea Henry, Iowa DOT spokeswoman, said in an email the department’s salt budget typically is around $13 million a year.

But a string of bad weather starting more than a year ago has prompted the need for a special appropriation this year, according to Craig Bargfrede, the Iowa DOT’s winter operations administrator.

He noted the state hasn’t had to seek a special appropriation for salt in about five years.

“This does not happen every year,” he said.

Bargfrede said the issue started last spring, when March and April of 2018 saw considerable freezing rain and ice, which forced the state to apply more salt than usual to roads.

In addition, salt vendors — primarily on the east side of the state — struggled to meet demands.

“What happened was we were unable to get our sheds full coming out of the winter of 2017 and 2018,” Bargfrede said.

The department also had to spend about $2 million of fiscal 2019 funds to buy close to 25,000 tons of salt heading into the most recent winter weather, in order to stock up on salt.

“That kind of put us behind going into the winter. And then you compound that with the kind of winter we had,” Bargfrede said.

This past winter didn’t hit Iowans too hard until the new year started. January and February were plagued by snow, ice and rain, which forced state and local entities to ramp up sand and salt applications.

With salt in high demand and running low across the Midwest, some entities struggled to keep streets and sidewalks clear.

The city of Iowa City ran so low that in February the city streets department had to cut off the Iowa City Community School District, which traditionally buys salt from the city.

The private sector also struggled, with many stores finding it difficult to keep their shelves stocked with salt.

The Iowa DOT’s winter severity index — which tracks winter weather based on factors such as the type of precipitation, length of storm, temperature and wind speed — found Iowa’s 2018-19 winter to be the harshest in the past decade, DOT spokeswoman Henry said.

The DOT’s special appropriation has been approved by the Iowa Senate and is headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

If approved, the funds could be spent any time until June 30, 2020.

Bargfrede said it’s likely those funds would be spent in the next six to nine months.

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“That funding will allow us to continue to take delivery of orders we have this fiscal year and branch into next fiscal year,” he said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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