DOT asks county highway departments to conserve road salt

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) issued revised guidelines to county highway departments on Wednesday, March 5th aimed at keeping state and federal highways safe for winter travel, while helping ensure an adequate supply of road salt for the remainder of this winter.

Salt supplies are low -- and the WisDOT supplies the salt. But contracts with county highway departments do the plowing and salting on the state highway system.

Now, WisDOT is saying keep up the level of service on interstate highways, but...

"We’re suggesting is some of the other highways say, like a 164, highway 83, different highways like that in areas of 38 and 31 — that they use a little lower level of salt, reduced by about a third to help extend out the supplies that we have remaining," said Michael Pyritz, DOT Communications Manager.

It's an all-in effort to extend the remaining salt supply through the rest of the winter. Average salt use on the State Highway System is about 500,000 tons per year. At the beginning of this season, 775,000 tons of salt were available and about 135,000 tons remain. Plus, the salt supply is not evenly distributed across the entire state. Pyritz says WisDOT has to do a little maneuvering to make sure everyone has enough.

"In fact, we’re even transferring within different regions of the state. Some of salt that will be coming into the Milwaukee area I believe is coming out of the Prairie du Chien area. So we’re reaching out to different locations within the state and arranging to have that material brought here into the southeast region," said Pyritz.

Along with impacting plowing and salting activities, WisDOT says this bitterly cold and snowy winter means motorists also need to be especially alert for potholes. The extreme cold has resulted in frost depths of five feet or more in many areas, causing a variety of problems including pavement tenting or heaving.

Potholes form when moisture enters cracks in pavement and the water freezes and expands. Warmer temperatures and traffic can then loosen the pavement causing pieces to break free. Compared to an average winter, this season has seen a 60 percent increase in the number of winter storm events. As moisture from repeated snowfalls melts, enters pavement cracks and freezes, it creates the perfect conditions for potholes.