By Alexander Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
Road salt is one of the state’s top tools to keep cars on the road during winter, but for how much longer? In Lansing, it’s still an important tool in the city’s snow removal program.
“Generally speaking, we’ll apply salt down to maybe 10 degrees, then we’ll apply what’s called a sand-salt mix, because salt will not react if the temperature gets too cold,” said Public Service Director Chad Gamble. “It’ll just be rocks on the roadway, which is no good.”
Gamble said even though some streets are left unsalted, major plow operations use 200 to 300 tons of the sand-salt mix.
“We don’t apply salt to all 400 miles of neighborhood streets, it’s somewhat of a waste of money,” said Gamble. “There are a lot of people who want us to do that because, well, they want to drive 25 miles per hour in their neighborhood on a flat street. Well, they should be driving slower and using care and caution.”
Even though salt has been used for decades across Michigan and neighboring states, there are other options. Victor Rose, Lansing’s Operations and Maintenance Superintendent, previously worked for the city of Grand Rapids, where those alternatives are being used.
“When I joined Grand Rapids, they didn’t even have a wing plow or a liquids truck,” said Rose. “When I left they had 14 of each.”
Rose wants to update Lansing’s snow removal fleet as well.
“We’re looking at adding liquids,” said Rose. “Whether it’s [salt additives such as] GeoMelt or Boost or calcium chloride or a mineral brine, we intend to incorporate those liquids into our operations. We should see a reduction in salt use of somewhere between 20 to 30 percent with the addition of liquids.”
Salt reduction means less salt in Michigan’s lakes. According to Western Michigan University Geoscience Professor Carla Koretsky, road salt dissolving into lakes can raise salinity and prevent oxygen from reaching the bottom during seasonal turnover. Any organism needing oxygen at those depths is out of luck.
Along with depth-dwelling organisms, vehicles would also benefit from salt reduction. The slushy mix of snow and salt can eat metal at an alarming rate. Mike Przedwojewski, owner of Mike’s Automotive Care in Lansing, sees the damage all too often.
“Every day, oh yeah. A lot of cars go to the junkyard long before they would have to because of rust,” said Przedwojewski. “The root cause is the salt but then you have poor maintenance. If people would wash their cars more often then they wouldn’t rust as bad.”
Tony Nelson, 25, had a family car that died a Rust Belt death.
“We used to have a green Oldsmobile 88. Good car all around but it died about a year back,” said Nelson. “It was rusting out completely. Our mechanic was actually afraid to put it on the lift because the rust was so bad it would just fall through. We couldn’t really get any repairs done because [attempting] any repairs would destroy the car.”
Przedwojewski gave a few tips for anyone wanting to extend their vehicle’s life.
“Undercoating a car when it’s brand new, washing it at least once a week and keeping it in a garage will do wonders for keeping it rust-free,” said Przedwojewski. “The most important thing is to wash it a lot.”
For now, road salt isn’t going anywhere, at least not in Lansing. Rose said adopting alternatives is something he would like to see done, but unlikely to happen soon due to budget constraints.
“It’s unfortunate we’re one of the last [cities] of our size to use liquids in our operations,” said Rose. “But it is what it is. Bottom line is, when it comes to winter maintenance, we’re going to do whatever we have to do on the roads to make them safe to drive.”