At the end of January, with road salt reserves running low and river barges carrying replenishments locked in ice near Peoria, Naperville changed its policy on salting streets during winter storms. To stretch supplies, the city decided to put the 1,000-plus cul-de-sacs around town on a salt-free diet.
A month later, with several more storm events behind us in this winter for the record books, I wonder if anyone navigating in and out of their courts even noticed this forced reduction in sodium and any difference in road conditions from reduced chloride.
After all, road salt effectiveness on cul-de-sacs is limited for the same reason many of us chose to live on these little dead ends: there is not a lot of traffic. The chemistry of turning ice into water after the application of road salt requires vehicles as a catalyst to mix salt and snow into a briny solution with a lower freezing point.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I missed whatever happened at the end of last week and the start of this one while enjoying a few days of shirt-sleeved 60s in Virginia. However, the several inches of snow that came early that week was already gone, and my court’s pavement was dry when I pulled out of the driveway Wednesday morning. Even without salt in the mix, a good job with the plow and sunny skies effectively cleared the asphalt of snow.
My colleague Bill Mego recently wrote about the ecological problems salt creates for our lawns and trees, so I will not reiterate these issues. Instead, I will look at this in terms of economics.
According to Naperville Public Works Director Dick Dublinski, a typical salt application on community cul-de-sacs chews up 50 to 75 tons of rock salt. At about $50 a ton, and prices expected to be even higher next year, this $2,500 to $3,750 per application plus the cost of labor and wear and tear on equipment is money that could be better spent elsewhere.
Rumor has it that a primary reason courts were salted was a matter of “equity.”
It seems some taxpaying cul-de-sac residents felt they were being short-changed if the dump trucks didn’t coat the pavement in front of their driveways with brine.
With a heavy coat of white already on my garage floor and a periodic need to mop crusty footprints in the kitchen, I do not need saline fairness and would be more than pleased to continue to see less salt in the neighborhood.
So, how about it?
If salt does not return to your neighborhood’s courts next winter, will it make a difference in your life?
Have you been slipping and sliding more since the end of January than you were before?
If not, wouldn’t you like to see the money previously spent on shaking salt on the courts redirected elsewhere — like maybe your own pocket through further cuts in property taxes?
Bob Fischer is president of the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org