BEND, OR -- This week's winter weather has renewed the debate over road salt. After receiving criticism for slick conditions in Portland, that city’s transportation bureau applied salt for just the second time, last week, during freezing rain.
In Central Oregon, sodium chloride is still not used. "There are some spots where the use of salt is the kind of thing we might look at," says Peter Murphy with the local Oregon Department of Transportation office. "We haven’t made a final decision about moving ahead with salt anywhere. What we’d like to do is consider salt to be another tool in out tool chest." He tells KBND News it's a tool with a number of consequences that must be considered. "It’s corrosive, it effects the environment, it effects cars, so there’s a lot of different user groups – and animals are included in that – of who might be effected by the use of salt."
Despite the Portland Bureau of Transportation's recent use of salt, Murphy says ODOT is not ready to take the step. "We just need to be sure of all the claims that all the different individuals are making. That’s the important part, is that we don’t just listen to the hue and cry, and begin the massive use of salt; that’s just not the way to proceed with it. We do understand there are consequences to the use of salt and so we need to make sure we understand those the best we can, and then apply it as a tool." If ODOT were to use salt on local highways, Murphy says it wouldn't replace other options currently in use, like magnesium chloride and plows, even clearing trees away from shady areas, "So that the sun can reach the highway sooner and that way melt out whatever ice might be there. So, we’re using a lot of different tools to control what’s happening on the highway. And, in a worst-case scenario would the use of salt be appropriate? We’re taking a good close look at that, and we want to make sure our partners are on board with us." Murphy says ODOT does not have a local facility to store road salt, nor trucks to spread it.
In Bend, officials say the only chemical used on city streets is liquid magnesium chloride with a rust inhibitor. Deschutes County crews don’t use regular salt, either. County Road Dept. Director Chris Doty says in extreme and specific cases, they use a special mixture that includes complex chlorides, which "softens" the snow and ice in preparation for removal by a grader.