Unprecedented winter storm plan salts all Madison roads

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- With another winter storm on the way, the Madison Streets Division is taking unprecedented measures to ensure all roadways are clear of ice and snow.

Bryan Johnson, spokesperson for Madison Streets Division, said that he believes these measures have never been taken. Johnson said the policy for salt routes came into effect in the 1970s, and he said since then, he has not been able to find a definitive instance of salting the entire city. He also said he spoke with two previous Streets Division superintendents who did not recall ever having used this technique.

Because of the extreme winter conditions recently, salting the entire city was the most effective option after sanding was not as effective as they had hoped, said Johnson.

"As a result of the ice storm last week, and the polar vortex temperatures behind it, it kind of created a hard pack of ice on a lot of the residential streets in Madison," he said. Johnson called these circumstances "extraordinary."

"We wound up deciding to salt every street in the City of Madison, so even those residential streets that don't typically get it," he said. "The rationale behind it is one, public safety, so other people on the roads can try to get around and use those roads a little easier. And also for our trucks. If we're going to be out there pushing the snow from the snowstorm, we wouldn't be able to get traction on these roads if there was a hard pack layer of ice underneath all this heavy, wet snow."

Johnson said that this type of measure will not become a normal tactic in storms.

“This isn’t something we’re going to regularly do because all of the salt that we spread, and also the county spreads, that people put on their sidewalks, parking lots, driveways - all that salt winds up in our water, both our drinking water and our lakes," he said.

For Phil Gaebler, his work as a water resource engineer for the City of Madison focuses on local water quality.

"Look at the amount of salt that we put down, it's increased since 1970 and it's showing up in the lakes and in our ground water," said Gaebler. "Once the salt gets in there, it doesn't get used up by anything, it's there until it flushes through the system and then it can take years for that to happen. The amount we put down is causing chloride levels to increase in all four of our lakes."

The salt on the roadways can run off into storm drains, which lead to the lakes.

"The actions that happen on that street are just like a shoreline," said Gaebler.

The amount of extra salt the city put down in preparation for the snow arriving Monday night into Tuesday is approximately the same as salting for one extra storm.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's one extra storm," Gaebler said. "It's not the ideal situation, but I think from a public safety perspective and to make sure our city's streets are still passable, it was a necessary measure, and I think the right one."