With record-breaking weather in Hillsdale this winter, the Hillsdale County Road Commission has spent approximately $323,722 on salt alone from January to March. According to the Commission’s Engineering Manager John Sanders, it’s the freezing rain that’s caused the most trouble.
“We had freezing rain three times this year,” Sanders said. “Compare that with the last four years when we only had one. And one of the days this year was extremely bad, we had half an inch. That’s a lot of ice.”
By comparison, the county spent just over $200,000 on salt for the 2017 – 18 year, a little bit above their four year average of $183,000. In total, including salt and sand mix, sand, and labor and equipment costs, Sanders projected approximately $730,000 will be spent on road maintenance by the end of this winter, compared to their $645,000 yearly average over the last five years.
Sanders said that freezing rain is the worst winter condition to deal with, in terms of keeping the roads clear.
“It requires special needs, compared to snow,” Sanders said. “You have to put your salt down thicker.” So thick, in fact, that the county has purchased 5,888 tons of salt since January.
In addition to needing to use a lot more salt for freezing rain than for snow, Sanders explained .that the street crew also has to scrape the roads in order to make them safe for cars.
“Twenty degrees is the perfect temperature for salt to work, to melt the snow and ice on the road,” Sanders said. “But after 20 degrees the snow and salt will re-freeze instantly, as soon as you melt it. There’s only so much salt can do. We try to use a little more salt or a little more sand, so people have a little more grit on the road to be able to travel, so when the salt refreezes, the sand is there to help it.”
But with freezing rain, the salt and sand can get wet and freeze together with the salt, making the problem worse.
Hillsdale County Road Commission Area Supervisor Kevin Sanders explained that when the ice gets thick, the main problem is the gravel roads.
“Usually for ice on gravel roads, we use the teeth grates that we use to scrape the gravel roads with in the summer, because it’s a carbine tip that cuts through the ice. It cuts grooves in ice to where we can get traction,” Kevin Sanders said.
He added that once they scrape what they can off, they sand the most dangerous parts: intersections, hills, and curves.
The thick layer of ice also means more manpower is needed.
“Everybody we can get on a piece of equipment, we put in,” Kevin Sanders said. “During the winter time we also have seasonal positions that we fill, to have more manpower in general.”
“Freezing rain is a whole different animal for us when it comes to maintaining roads,” John Sanders said.
Hillsdale Daily News reported earlier this month that the Road Commission Board spent over $300K for new road equipment to improve the city’s ability to respond to this kind of extreme weather. Coupled with the extra salt expenses, the Hillsdale County Road Commission is looking toward a frugal summer.
“We have to look at where we’re at each year. If we have a heavy winter like we had this year, we spend less during the summer. Our entire budget is based on what happens during the winter time,” John Sanders said.
Hillsdale County Road Commissioner Mike Parney confirmed that the road budget is a contingency fund, but said the county is prepared for the expense.
“It’s going to be more than we had budgeted for, but we should be alright paying for it,” Parney said.
John Sanders said that Hillsdale is not the only county who has paid extra to maintain roads this season.
“We had a conference discussing it with the four counties around us: it’s been a tough year for everybody, mainly because of the freezing rain events,” he said.