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Madison plow trucks spread salt on all city streets as another winter storm bears down on area

February 12, 2019

Madison officials made the “unprecedented” decision to spread salt on every city street Monday to break up a stubborn layer of ice still coating many roadways ahead of another winter storm.

The effort was meant to melt the ice enough to give city plows enough traction to push the several new inches of snow expected to fall Monday night and Tuesday off roads.

City officials made the decision to coat all streets with salt after previous efforts using a small amount of salt mixed with sand to remove ice from last week’s ice storm failed, said Streets Division Superintendent Charlie Romines.

“It was the hope that the salt within the sand would melt the ice, but that did not occur,” he said. “The unprecedented decision to salt each street in Madison was made after it became apparent the sand (and) salt mixture previously spread on residential streets was not effective in breaking through the ice layer on the roads.”

Officials said Monday was likely the first time all Madison streets were salted since the city instituted a policy on salting roads in the 1970s in an effort to slow a marked increase in sodium and chloride, the two components of salt, in Madison-area lakes and drinking water.

That policy calls for salt to be applied to 32 “salt routes” in the city, including major thoroughfares, bus routes and streets near hospitals and clinics but to only use sand on residential streets, if needed.

Trucks were to spread salt at the rate of 200 pounds per lane mile in residential neighborhoods and 300 pounds per lane mile on the main salt routes. Madison has about 800 lane miles of streets.

But Romines said the operation won’t become a habit.

“Salting each street is a singular decision in response to unique weather conditions,” he said. “The Streets Division will not continue to salt each street in Madison in response to normal winter conditions.”

Up to 8 inches

Madison’s salting operation came as another snowstorm was bearing down on Wisconsin.

Central Wisconsin could see up to a foot of snow, with up to 8 inches in Madison through Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. Freezing rain could also be mixed with snow Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for most of the state, including Dane County, from 9 p.m. Monday to midnight Tuesday.

Wind speeds through Tuesday night could be up to 15 mph, with gusts of up to 30 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Romines said the city will dispatch 34 plow trucks overnight to plow and salt main thoroughfares once the storm hits. An additional two will spread sand on hills, curves and intersections.

Roads are expected to be slippery Tuesday morning, he said.

“Allow for ample commuting time in order to arrive at your destinations safely,” Romines said. “Allow for plenty of stopping distance at intersections and behind vehicles. Also, as with all winter storms, please be slow, patient, and alert on the roads.”

Emergencies noted

The coming storm had already prompted some area municipalities to declare snow emergencies Monday afternoon.

The town of Middleton, village of Marshall, Stoughton and Sun Prairie declared snow emergencies on Monday ahead of the storm. Madison had not called a snow emergency as of early Monday evening.

Romines said the Streets Division will monitor the situation. Regular Tuesday refuse and recycling is planned to continue as normal.

The Streets Division also said Monday that the storm will likely result in a city-wide plowing operation, though the timing for that hasn’t been determined.

For more information on plowing operations in Madison and snow emergencies in the city: Go to cityofmadison.com/residents/winter.

The state Assembly also plans to still hold a legislative floor session on Tuesday, said Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna.

He said legislators concerned about weather conditions affecting travel should come to Madison a day early.

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