Winter Maintenance Efficiency Opportunity, More Road Salt


Road Salt

A great efficiency opportunity for the Town of Aurora. Eventually more salt on the secondary roads. Less spring cleaning, less sand dust. Less work for public service employees, thus less money spent. Aurora is switching to 100% road salt application and closing the loop on all the secondary roads this winter. Do you think Town Council on your behalf made the right decision approving the change back to 100% salt despite  potential environmental concerns? Well let’s analyze it, but for the record I am not in favour of the change to 100% road salt.

What Aurora has been doing up to last winter: “The materials used for managing snow on the roads are straight salt on the primary roads and a 90 percent sand and 10 percent salt mix on the secondary roads.” I understand that the secondary roads are side streets, lanes, boulevards, and the primary roads are the longer stretch roads. Yes, we are using salt already on primary roads. Really, who needs more salt in their diet? According to the Town, our depleting nature does.

So what’s happening? Well, it all comes down to the cost of winter road maintenance and your tax dollars. I believe that since many people complained about the reduced winter service last year (2014/2015), we are going to have some improvement this coming winter (2015/2016). It is going to cost a little more, like $200K more. And it will mainly improve the response time in your neighbourhood.

With contract renewals last year winter maintenance costs increased substantially. So the Town started looking for savings. The Town studied a switch to 100% salt only application and phase out of sand/salt mixture application. The Town found an estimated savings of about $130K per year.  Despite salt being more expensive than sand/salt mixture, the Town found the work related to the sand/salt mixture application and resulting clean-up to be more labour intensive and costly overall. Considering what I was able to figure out from Table 3 and 4 in the Report No. IES15-057, I’m pretty sure the projected savings number is a guesstimate.

But what about the known costs to our environment?  Environment of Canada stated: “A comprehensive five-year scientific assessment by Environment Canada determined that in sufficient concentrations, road salts pose a risk to plants, animals and the aquatic environment.” It’s not banned but it is not recommended. The difference is that salt is soluble, will dissolve and enter habitats, and further will be ingested and absorbed, by animals and plants accordingly.

However, the Town argues the following, clearly defending road salt. Really? I am actually surprised that section in the report called road salt to have negligible environmental impacts while at the same time Environment Canada has identified road salt as a hazard to the environment.

“Or perhaps a ‘healthy environment’ has nothing to do with maximizing customer value.”

Environmental impacts considered negligible. Environment Canada has identified salt use as a hazard to the environment however; no suitable alternative to road safety management is available [of course there is, use of current sand/salt mixture]. This proposed program [use of more salt] change will result in a 56 percent increase in salt application for the town. However, when considering the overall impacts of sand application such as entry into storm sewers, dust generation, impact on private properties, collection and disposal costs and land fill capacity use, there are environmental benefits to avoiding sand use both in energy for equipment operations and impact on the local environments. There is clearly a benefit in reducing total materials handled by 47 percent over the year.” ~ Winter Maintenance Annual 2014/2015 Performance Report, Report No. IES15-057, October 6th, 2015, Pg. 6, General Committee Meeting Agenda.

The Town also stated: “The department initiated a Lean Practices Review pilot program in 2015 to review key services for opportunities to reduce costs and waste.” Well, based on the industry standard definition of Lean:  “The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” Where waste is defined as unnecessary steps in the process in general.

However, I am not so sure about this lean practice review by the Town to phase in 100% salt application. Of course it is easier to apply lean strategies when the road salt environmental impact is suddenly neglected and new environmental impacts against the sand are argued by the Town with no scientific study to back it up. Or perhaps a healthy environment has nothing to do with maximizing customer value.

Here’s what the Town argues: “Sand will also travel through the Town’s storm water management infrastructure and eventually end up in ponds, rivers and streams. The excess sand causes environmental impacts and increased operating costs related to cleaning of catch basins to remove any buildup of sand.” Well I tell you this, anything that dissolves like salt will travel much faster through the Town’s storm water management infrastructure. Sand is heavier and does not dissolve. Not sure how build up in the storm sewers is actually an environmental impact. To me it is more like a technical issue. If it gets into streams and ponds (no cases have been identified for major sand buildups) it may have some effect on the aquatic life, but at least it is not consumed.

However, for those who think that the ponds in Aurora are built for you to enjoy nature spots, that’s only partially true. These ponds are storm ponds for subdivisions and their primary function is to collect water from the streets and to eventually avoid flooding. In the old days ditches on the side of the road were sufficient. With the Town’s growth that’s no longer the case. Ditches and no sidewalk scenarios can be found in some older parts of our town.

“Sand is most useful when it is too cold for road salt to be effective (below -15° C)”

Road salt is not like the table salt we consume, it is harsher salt, industrial salt. Extra winter maintenance for our vehicles will be required. Road salt is corrosive. I don’t drive much on primary roads during the winter. I drive more on the secondary ones. Therefore, changeover to road salt has nothing to do with lean practices and maximizing customer value or in our case maximizing resident value. Road salt may also be harsher on the water management infrastructure. Salt speeds up corrosive reaction and deterioration of materials. Sand is insoluble and doesn’t react. Sand is abrasive when force is applied and is used for traction. Sand is most useful when it is too cold for salt to be effective (below -15° C) and when traction is needed immediately on hills, or bridges, or packed-snow roadways.

I can go on and on. But I do have a final communication concern. Considering that road salt was identified as an environmental hazard by Environment Canada, then was the Town report ever shown to the Environmental Advisory Committee for review and further recommendations? I hope so.

Anna Lozyk Romeo, Editor’s Notes
Aurora, ON

Copyright 2015 Anna Lozyk Romeo / Living in Aurora

Winter Maintenance

Road Salt

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