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Traditionally, if you were visiting Oregon from a northern state having never driven in a Portland winter, you would have been shocked to discover that the city took a firm stand against using rock salt on roads, especially while making the transition from neighboring California, Idaho, or Nevada. While salt is widely used throughout the U.S. to free busy roadways from the hazards of snow and ice, Oregon avoided its use at all costs…until a grumpy Old Man Winter struck in December 2016.

Rock salt, or sodium chloride, is just a coarse version of your average table salt, but it can do copious amounts of damage when it is applied to clear ice and snow from roads. In a surprising change of policy, Oregon has approved its use for an unusually heavy winter.

Advantages of Salting Icy Roads

The main purpose of using rock salt on roads is to reduce the number of winter car accidents. Slippery roads, gray skies, and falling snow coupled with drivers who haven’t driven in slippery roads, gray skies, and falling snow since at least a year ago are the perfect formula for a spike in car accidents. For public safety reasons, the vast majority of states that get hit with snowfall utilize rock salt on roads because it is advantageous in melting thick layers of ice and snow quickly.

According to the American Highway Users Alliance, rock salt has been proven to reduce traffic incidents by 85%. A simple 10% improvement in the friction of the asphalt can generate a 20% reduction in accidents. In addition, rock salt is cheap to buy at about $50 per ton. Most states consider it a cost-effective solution to reduce traffic collisions and fatalities.

Disadvantages of Road Salt

While most states will do whatever it takes to reduce collisions in the short term, Oregon considers the long-term effects of applying rock salt to roads including vast environmental harm and infrastructure damage. Ultimately, the state has long decided that the harm done by rock salt is worse than the amount of good it can do, up until this year where the pros outweigh the cons.

Environmental Impact

Anything created by man that causes environmental deterioration eventually comes back to bite him. When sodium chloride is applied to roadways it can stunt the growth of or kill various types of plants. It taints the soil and eventually makes its way into damaging the water supply. Just one teaspoon of salt can pollute 5 gallons of water. When a city uses salt on the roads, they are using several tons!

In 2014, the entire country used 17 million tons of salt. This much salt can easily seep into the water supply, killing aquatic life and altering the ecosystems of our rivers and streams. This can also lead to pollution in our own drinking water. Salt inhibits the nutrient intake of plants that don’t die off and allows salt-resistant species to thrive, throwing the natural balance of Oregon’s land out of whack. Birds are also poisoned by it. Environmental damage is not something that can be readily repaired, and so it is best to tread lightly.

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Road salt reduces the longevity of a vehicle by as much as half. In the five years it took to pay off your car you may need to buy another one if you live in the Salt Belt. What’s worse? Rust creeps up on all of our infrastructure, including bridges. Portland’s famous steel bridges are surprisingly well-kept simply because salt is not applied to them. In the long-run, salt can cost billions of dollars’ worth of damage that would eventually be passed onto taxpayers. Over and over again, Oregonians have voted “no.”

Does this mean that Oregon simply does not care about the lives of its citizens? Quite the contrary. Oregon protects its citizens by looking at the bigger picture.

Anti-Icing Oregon Roads

Behold, an alternative salting technique approved by Oregonians! Anti-icing a roadway is not equivalent to de-icing. Rather, it is another way to make the roads less susceptible to snow and ice accumulation, making them safer for motorists while protecting their cars and the environment.

Anti-icing is a way to pre-treat the roads with a liquid solution of magnesium chloride. The chemical salt is sprayed on roads in anticipation of a snowstorm. Like salt, it lowers the temperature at which water freezes, causing what is on the ground to melt. It also creates a non-stick layer that prevents ice build-up, reducing the chances of encountering dangerous black ice.

This year, ODOT is using salt on main roadways affected by dangerous bouts of ice as a supplement to the anti-ice application. It is taking a “surgical” approach by salting only what is absolutely necessary to reduce risk.

If you have recently been injured in a Portland winter car accident, you may not know that your insurance company stands to benefit from not paying a fair claim. You may benefit from teaming up with a car accident attorney who can help you get the settlement you deserve to cover medical bills, lost wages, and more. Call RizkLaw at (503) 245-5677 for a complimentary legal consultation.