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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) issued revised guidelines to county highway departments 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.
“This winter has been particularly tough on plow operators and equipment, salt supplies and highway pavements,” said Todd Matheson with WisDOT’s Bureau of Highway Maintenance. “Due to the extreme winter weather, the department is proactively taking a number of steps to extend salt supplies while keeping highways safe and open for travel.”
WisDOT contracts with county highway departments to provide routine maintenance services such as plowing and salting along the State Highway System. Recent guidance from WisDOT to counties aimed at extending salt supplies includes:
• No changes to the level of service on Interstate highways.
• Counties will reduce salt application rates on non-Interstate routes.
• Increased emphasis on plowing and pre-wetting salt before it’s applied to roadways. Pre-wetting helps salt adhere to roads and reduces overall salt use.
• Allowing counties to use sand-salt mixes on lower volume roadways.
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.
“A lot depends on Mother Nature, but implementing these conservation measures now and continuing to monitor salt inventories weekly will help ensure we’ll have an adequate supply for the rest of this winter season,” Matheson said.
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. “Once temperatures finally warm up, most of the tenting should level off, but it will still result in pavement cracking, and every crack is a potential pothole waiting to happen,” Matheson said.
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.
“When they’re not plowing and salting to keep roadways open, highway workers are busy making temporary pothole repairs,” Matheson said. “The best thing drivers can do is slow down and be alert for rapidly changing road conditions. And when you see highway workers making repairs, slow down or move over.”
Wisconsin’s Move Over Law requires motorists to slow down, or shift over a lane if possible when coming upon highway maintenance vehicles, emergency responders or tow trucks stopped along the road with warning lights activated.