The latest round of winter weather to hit the Capital Region had plow crews working long hours pushing snow and spreading tons of salt in an effort to keep thoroughfares safe.
Salt usage is up this year, according to local town and city officials, and Wednesday’s storm, which dumped between 8 and 12 inches on the region, helped push usage totals even higher.
The magnitude of Wednesday’s weather event prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a statewide state of emergency. A full vehicle ban was also imposed on Interstate 84 between the Pennsylvania and Connecticut borders due to treacherous driving conditions.
In a statement, Cuomo said the state had an adequate salt supply for all state roads, but salt shortages have been reported in localities in New York City and Long Island. Some of the state’s salt stockpiles are being sent to those communities.
“Salt is in high demand but the state has been proactive in managing its supply,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani, in an email. “The state has received requests from a number of municipalities in New York City and Long Island, but none in other parts of the state.”
Local officials confirmed that despite increased usage, they have enough salt to spread around.
Schenectady road crews have been dispensing plenty of it this winter.
“Right before this storm, we had already responded as many times as we would for the entire season, Nov. 1 to April 1,” said Carl Olsen, the city’s commissioner of general services.
The city was fully stocked up on salt before Wednesday’s storm and is within budget for salt purchases, reported county spokesman Joe McQueen.
“The secret is to do what you need to do as efficiently as you can. We made some good decisions about when to do that,” Olsen said.
He explained that he considers the temperature before, during and after a storm, and also the moisture content of the snow when planning his road-cleaning strategy.
The town of Clifton Park has purchased 4,667 tons of road salt since October, at a cost of $238,000, according to town Supervisor Phil Barrett.
Wednesday, 20 plow trucks were out cleaning up the roads in the 50-square-mile town.
Barrett said a series of small storms has caused the town’s salt supply to dwindle more quickly than usual.
“Each time you mobilize there are costs involved, and we’ve had many small weather events — a couple inches of snow, sleet, freezing rain. We’ve had many of those instances during this winter season, so those types of storms, although the crews might not be out for a lengthy amount of time, you do need to use a fair amount of road salt for each and every weather event,” he said.
Barrett reported that the town is within budget for salt purchases to date.
“As long as we have a normal finish to the winter season, I don’t expect to be over budget,” he said.
Niskayuna is also on budget for salt purchases, said town Supervisor Joe Landry.
“We have ordered additional salt but we have had no difficulties getting the quantities that we normally use,” he noted.
Salt usage varies depending on whether it’s being applied to flat or steep terrain and on the type of precipitation. If it’s being pushed off the roads along with accumulating snow, that also enters into the equation, Landry pointed out.
Niskayuna’s nine plow routes take anywhere from three to five hours to complete. At around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, crews were going out on the routes for the third time since the snow began, Landry said.
Gloversville’s Department of Public Works Director Kevin Jones said he buys his salt 1,000 to 1,500 tons at a time to supply the six large plows and three or four smaller trucks that keep the city’s road’s clean.
He said he stocked up in early January and still has a good supply of salt on hand, although it has been diminished by a number of “nuisance” weather events.
“We’ve had some weather where it would warm up a little bit and things would melt during the day, and then it would freeze up at night and we would have black ice again, and the only fix for that is a little bit of salt,” he said, noting that it costs the city the same amount of money to deal with nuisance events as it does to clean up a foot of snow.
Salt usage is also up in Saratoga Springs, but keeping it in stock hasn’t been an issue, said deputy highway Commissioner Tim Cogan.
“Every time I order salt, I get it. Sometimes it takes a little bit, but we’ve been getting our share,” he said.
Glenville town Supervisor Chris Koetzle rode shotgun in one of the 10 snowplows the town had on the road Wednesday. Koetzle said salt usage has increased in Glenville this year but that the town is within budget and has adequate reserves, due to the several past mild winters.
“We were pretty well stocked, I think, to start with, and then we just got 400 tons, and we’re OK,” he said.
Koetzle said the town pre-orders road salt every year to avoid shortages and unanticipated price hikes.