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Road salt prices soar, road crews experiment with alternatives

Lawton_Bitter winds and colder temperatures with a few snow flurries are two obvious signs winter is coming to Texoma.  That means roads here could get icy.  Some places in the U.S. already have snow and ice, with travel hampered not only by conditions, but slick pavement that isn't treated with salt.

There is a salt shortage and prices are have jumped - as high as $170 per ton.  Do our area road  crews have enough salt to take us through the winter?  Officials say we should have more than enough thanks to a mild winter last year.

The City of Lawton's Street Maintenance Department has two-million pounds of salt and sand mix stored in a giant igloo, ready for dangerously icy roads.  "The main concern for us is we can't control the weather," said Streets Superintendent Tony DeGiacomo.  "What we can do is control how quickly we tend to the weather - if it gets bad enough."

The city purchased most of the salt mixture it has on hand more than a year ago, and didn't have to use much last year.  The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) also has more than two-million pounds to use on the 500 miles of highway in Comanche County.  "It was still left over from last year, and we've had it in reserve since," said John Hennessey with ODOT.  "Haven't used any, yet - fortunately."

If ODOT had used all of the salt last year, the price for the mixture would have risen from $64 per ton to $75.  "Unfortunately, as shipping goes up because of fuel (prices), expense of shipping salt and sand, you'll not cut back on materials, but you may mix it differently," said Hennessey. 

ODOT normally uses a mixture of two parts sand to one part salt.  However, to stretch supplies, they may change to a three-to-one mixture this year.  But, they say they won't cut back on workers once ice does get here.  "We run two, 12-hour shifts during the winter," he said.  "They'll run continuously.  During harsh weather, this yard won't shut down.  If it's going to be a full, all blown-out major storm, then we load everything we've got and have drivers standing by, and in a minute's call we're here putting it out."

Some cities are swapping salt for different flavors - beets and brine.  Ohio and Missouri are two states mixing beet juice with brine for their roads.  The beet juice makes brine freeze at a lower temperature.  The biodegradable mixture also is easier on cars.  DeGiacomo says he is testing beet juice to see if it could be put to use in Lawton.

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