The Use of Road Salts for Highway Winter Maintenance: An Asset Management Perspective

27 Mar 2017 3:08 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

Chloride-based chemicals, known as road salts, play a key role in ensuring safe winter-driving conditions, especially for highways enduring cold and snowy weather. They are widely applied for anti-icing, de-icing, and pre-wetting operations. Traditionally, nominal cost and effectiveness are the major criteria when the Department of Transportation professionals select the chemicals for snow and ice control. However, there are growing concerns over negative impacts that road salts pose on motor vehicles, the transportation infrastructure, and the environment. The corrosion and environmental costs pertinent to road salts amount up to at least $469 per ton on average, and they are often ignored in formulating highway winter maintenance strategies. The magnitude of such hidden costs is significant compared with the nominal cost of using road salts for snow and ice control (approximately three times). Some products for snow and ice control may cost less in regard to materials, labor and equipment, but cost more in the long run as a result of their corrosion and environmental impacts. Therefore, an asset management perspective should be utilized to ensure that any cost savings of winter maintenance practices would not be at the price of deteriorated infrastructure, impaired environment, or jeopardized traveler safety. The crux is to strike the right balance in meeting multiple goals of the highway agency, including safety, mobility, environmental stewardship, infrastructure preservation, and economics. Considerable amount of research is still needed in order to fill the knowledge gap and establish a scientifically robust, defensible decision-making process for highway winter maintenance.

Xianming Shi, Ph.D. Program Manager, Weather & Winter Mobility Western Transportation Institute Montana State University, Box 174250, Bozeman, MT 59717-4250 Phone: (406) 994-6486 Fax: (406) 994-1697 Email:

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