Communities all over the northern part of the United States are learning that while the price of fuel has dropped dramatically since last year, the price of keeping snow and ice off the roads has doubled since last winter. The average price of road salt has climbed from about $63 per ton last year to over $150 per ton this year.
It may sound like chump change, but consider this: Birchwood Snow and Landscape Contractors in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — which clears snow from several large shopping centers and big box stores — spent $3.9 million for road salt this year, and had to travel to Morocco to get it. Imagine what your community is spending.
Part of the issue is the horrible winter much of the country experienced in 2013/2014. An average winter finds contractors in the northern climates going out to salt their properties an average of 30 times. “Last year we went salting 51 times,” said Joe Kassander, vice president of Birchwood Snow & Landscape Contractors in an interview with the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinal. That activity depleted any stocks of road salt.
Municipalities are also buying more road salt to prepare for a repeat of last winter’s beating. Time reported that Wisconsin typically has 500,000 tons of road salt purchased, but upped the ante by 64,000 tons in preparation for another harsh winter.
Pennsylvania finds itself behind the eight ball in terms of snow and ice preparation in 2014/2015. Richard Kirkpatrick, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesperson, told Time that the state’s average is 841,000 tons. Last year, Pennsylvania laid down 1.2 million tons of the corrosive ice melter. For 2014/2015, though, the state has just a little more than half that much salt on hand at 694,000 tons.
It means that private contractors and local governments are having to seek out supplies of road salt from all over the world, including Africa, Morocco, Venezuela and Egypt.
Road salt may be the bane of vintage car collectors everywhere, but it’s demonstrably effective: A study from Marquette University suggested that the use of road salt as a snow melter reduced accidents by 85 percent, and the severity of those accidents by the same figure.