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Science and the Environment

MoDOT's Salt Use This Season: Approaching 200,000 Tons

Shannon Kellner holds out salt that's been mixed and is ready for deployment during this weekend's winter storm/Credit: Scott

Ahead of yet another winter storm to hit the Midwest, salt trucks are preparing for deployment across the Show-Me state. And the Missouri Department of Transportation is not alone in states that’ve been going through an abundance of de-icing material this season.

“We have the salt in there, we have some sand in there as well for abrasives, and then we have the cinder, which also we use as an abrasive, and that’s why it’s getting its dark color,” Kellner describes.

Shannon Kellner is showing me a handful of rock salt that crews will load and distribute this weekend across the region. Kellner, the assistant engineer for MoDOT’s Southwest District, explains that the state typically gets their material from a mine in Kansas before mixing on-site, but amid a nationwide salt shortage, Missouri is also purchasing from Texas and Utah.

“Before [the season started] we were getting it for about $60 a ton, which is roughly the same price we can get a ton of asphalt. Right now, we’re paying closer to $180 and $200 a ton,” Kellner said.

Kellner notes that while the actual price of the salt itself is not much higher, transporting the material over longer distances has raised costs.

So far this year, the state has used 184,000 tons of salt, laying anywhere from 16-20,000 tons per event. Southwest Missouri crews have accounted for more than 29,000 tons to date, well above last season’s total.

At this point, according to Kellner, crews are just trying to get the most out of their salt by mixing in sand and other small aggregates, because getting more in and paying for it “is going to be difficult.”

Related: How mixing salt with beet juice helps keep roads clear.

Kellner says the state has spent about $50 million for winter operations to date, which includes salt and other de-icing agents, personnel and fuel. But increasing demand and costs this winter could limit the degree to which major road repairs can be made come spring and summer.  

“We’re gonna to keep the roads safe and passable, obviously, and we’re gonna focus on keeping the potholes cleared, or filled. But as far as doing any major rehabilitation or anything like that we’re not gonna have the budget to do as much of that as we would like to do.,” Kellner said.

Materials are typically mixed at multiple agency maintenance facilities across the state, including around two dozen in the southwest district, and ready for loading 24 hours in advance of a storm. MoDOT will send crews out to pre-treat the roads ahead of this weekend’s winter storm, which is expected to bring freezing rain, sleet and snow to the region sometime late Saturday afternoon and continue through early Monday morning.

You can find updated road conditions through the agency’s traveler information map online or through MoDOT’s mobile app.