Icey Road

Drivers venturing across the 205 bridge during the January 2017 freeze were surprised to find Clark County roads clear and passable while Portland struggled with slippery layers of packed ice and snow.  The Washington Department of Transportation (WDOT) brought down eight plows and road salt to assist with snow and ice removal, but results seemed not any better than other methods Oregon has used. Many said that not enough was applied and it was used at the wrong time to be effective.

How Does Road Salt Work?

Road salt lowers the freezing point of water, making snow less likely to freeze. It must be applied to pavement in a liquid salt brine before a storm to be effective. This will loosen the snow or ice that later accumulates, so that it can be removed with a shovel or plow. Road salt also prevents ice from forming and reduces the amount needed to de-ice the surface later. As snow continues to fall, salting and plowing is repeated. Salt applied too late will not completely melt snow or ice. WDOT crews sent down to assist with snow and ice removal commented that salt was applied in too small an amount and not soon enough to be effective.

Why Has Oregon Resisted Salt As a Road De-Icer?

Environmentalists have felt that damage to plants and wildlife from rare applications of road salt in our usually temperate climate justify abstaining from salt use. Instead they advocate use of Magnesium Chloride for snow and ice removal, which has been shown to damage road surfaces. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) said it will continue to experiment with road salt use on selected roads during future snow and ice storms.

Many Roads Still Unplowed Days After January 2017 Snowfall

Although the snowfall lasted for less than 24 hours, subfreezing temperatures persisted. Days later, travelers in an around Portland and its suburbs found many roads still barely passable, while some roads were clear. Portland’s existing fleet of 45 plows was not enough during this sudden and persistent storm, and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), dealing with heavy snow in central Oregon, was not able to offer help. The fact that it was necessary for Washington State to send down plows and salt to assist with snow removal indicates that Oregon needs to be better prepared for winter weather.

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