Friday, August 13, 2010

We need a plan as well as salt for winter freeze

"Lesson learned" is the message from the National Roads Authority and they are buying 80,000 tonnes of salt for the coming winter. They want to be ready for the once every 40 years event.

I don't know. To me if that's the only lesson they learned then they've learned little. Salt is not the be all and end of all of winter road maintenance.

First of all, salt ruins the road surface. If all the authorities here are planning to do is dump tons of salt on snow-covered and/or icy roads we'll be left with little segments of roadway to connect our potholes come spring time. Salt really ruins the roads.

Sometimes you have to actually move the snow/ice off the road. And the sooner you do that after a snowfall the better. If the NRA and county councils had reacted quickly when the snow first fell, organized work crews to shovel the little bit of snow off the roads at key intersections and off hilly sections of the roads that would have gone a long way towards keeping these issues to a minimum in January.

They didn't do that, however, and simply relied on salt or "grit" (still not entirely sure what that is). Salt melts snow and ice, but it won't work through a fall of several inches of snow. All that will happen in that case is that salt will melt the snow to slush, which will refreeze at night as the traffic dies down and the temperature falls.

You have to move snow. You can melt the ice, but you have to move snow. And, notice above I said they should organize work crews. I'm not talking about full time employees of the county council, but why not ask for volunteers to clear the key roads in a neighborhood and employ temporary work crews to clear more important routes?

We don't have dozens of snow plows and we shouldn't. There would be no point in buying and housing such machines for a once every 40 years event. But, our planners authorities could have hundreds of snow shovels stored for such events. Our planners could have local civic groups prepared to organize the crews - voluntary and paid - to use those shovels to clear the roads.

There is much that should be done to prepare for that rare snow emergency here and we don't have to spend a fortune. Call on the people to contribute. Why is everyone so wary of invoking civic pride and voluntarism for rare events.