Oregon roads get mostly a no-salt diet
PENDLETON — Oregon is experimenting with salting roads along a few state border crossings to de-ice them, but it has no plans to apply rock salt to Interstate 84, where a tour bus crash last month killed nine people.
Most neighboring states use rock salt on their roads, so drivers may face icier roads as they cross into Oregon, which has cost and environmental reasons for relying on sand and less-corrosive magnesium chloride.
Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water. But rock salt also rusts out vehicles and bridges, and Oregon doesn't want rock salt winding up in the Columbia Basin, the East Oregonian reported.
The Oregon State Police say the Dec. 30 tour bus crash happened on a stretch of road with ice and snow patches, but they have said it may take weeks to determine what caused it.
The crash, though, has raised the question of salting Oregon highways.
“Am I in the minority that feels like there is a moral obligation to this?” said Oregon truck driver Larry Phelps. “At some point we have to see that this is costing lives. I'm tired of seeing cars turned upside down on my route.”
Phelps, 62, said the state is a running joke among truckers: “You can't wait to get out of the state so you can relax.”
As an alternative to sodium chloride, or salt, Oregon uses magnesium chloride. That lowers the freezing point of water to about 25 degrees, while traditional rock salt lowers it to about 15 degrees. But the magnesium chloride is also 70 percent less corrosive than salt.
After numerous wrecks involving cars driving in from salting states, Oregon has begun five-year tests of applying salt on 11 miles of Interstate 5 near the California border and 120 miles of U.S. 95 as it cuts through southeastern Oregon between Nevada and Idaho.
Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Strandberg said, however, that salting Interstate 84 at the Idaho border “is not on the horizon.”
“We can't just go out and begin using salt,” said department District Manager Marilyn Holt. “Oregon is a very environmentally conscious state with very tough groundwater laws.”
She said extensive salting would mean expenses for equipment and retrofits.
Strandberg said ODOT applies both sand and magnesium chloride to known trouble spots — curves, inclines and places where ice tends to accumulate — and gives priority to highly frequented roads. A few hours before the crash, the department had put sand on that stretch of I-84.
“Unfortunately, we just don't have the money to hit every spot,” he said. “It's often a judgment call by local crews.”
Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info