Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting to know WSDOT - and your vehicle, too.

We are very lucky to have you. You pay attention, ask questions, offer opinions AND solutions. Many times, your letters, e-mails and phone calls bring up issues or questions and I think – you can’t be the only person who thinks that. So, we add information to our Web site or try some other way to get the info out to drivers.




This week, we got one of those e-mails. (I did edit a bit for spelling.) “I understand that two years ago you began a program of using salt on Eastern Washington roads. I drove to Pullman last December and I'm still dealing with the corrosion as the result of this one trip. Please let the appropriate officials know I believe the use of corrosive chemicals for road treatment should be stopped. Until the program is stopped you should let people know on your Web site which roads are actively being salted so they would have a chance to avoid those roads.”

One of our Maintenance Managers responded. “The traveling public and the freight industry will no longer tolerate the frequent closure of highways and the corresponding elevated accident rates that were associated with the previous philosophy of ‘sand and plow’. WSDOT will continue to test alternative products such as acetates and agricultural by-products which are thought to be less corrosive, but until such products are made more readily available, are less expensive, and have been fully tested for environmental impacts, we will continue to use the tried and true methods which have allowed us to provide the level of service the traveling public has come to expect.”

This response (and the more details I offer below) highlight what we do and how much emphasis we place on keeping state routes open during challenging winter conditions. But there are just a few things about winter that we just can’t control. One is the weather. There are very sophisticated weather forecasting systems, but sometimes, Mother Nature just throws a curve ball.

And number two is drivers. Today’s auto safety features save lives. But, you shouldn’t feel like you can drive through a snow storm as if it’s 60 degrees and sunny just because you have AWD, 4-wheel drive or advanced traction control. Unfortunately, we still see those drivers out there. And, when they cause a collision, it slows down everyone else.

For many of us, gone are the days when you car started to spin or slip a bit so you knew it was time to take it down a notch. So please, slow down and get to know your car a bit. How will you know when or if the traction control starts taking over? This, along with the weather outside the window, will help you know when it’s time to start slowing down. Don’t wait until you are in the ditch (or worse) before you realize you are going too fast.

And what do those anti-lock brakes sound like? A sudden loud sound coming from your car while you are trying to navigate through a snow storm can really wreck your concentration.

For those who would like a bit more background on the WSDOT Winter Road Maintenance program, here are some other highlights for the e-mail response:
  • The salt program is much older than two years in Washington State. We've been using a Chemical Priority Program for several years with the goal of reducing sand use across the state.
  • This program is statewide and is not confined to Eastern Washington.
  • We use a variety of corrosion inhibited liquid chloride products including sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, and calcium chloride. We also use solid sodium chloride (rock salt) in combination with the inhibited liquids to form a wetted salt which acts more quickly and effectively on ice and snow.
  • Any one of these liquid products along with solid salt is used on every state route to varying degrees, dependent on climate and elevation.
  • The use of liquid and solid chloride products to manage ice and snow is practiced in nearly all snowbelt states and Canadian provinces.
  • WSDOT is one of the few transportation agencies which requires that all liquid products be corrosion inhibited. As a member of the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters (PNS), WSDOT requires that liquid products be at least 70% less corrosive than straight sodium chloride. This is not to say that these products are totally non-corrosive. There will be some corrosive effects from the use of any chloride product, inhibited or not.
  • We strongly feel that the ability to provide a superior level of service in winter outweighs the comparatively minor impacts of these products. The ability to drive from Ridgefield to Pullman in December is a case in point.
Also, please note the above outlines treatments on state highways maintained under WSDOT’s Winter Maintenance program. More links that describe the WSDOT Winter Program and the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters organization: www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/, www.wsdot.wa.gov/winter/SnowIcePlan.htm, www.wsdot.wa.gov/partners/pns/.

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