No need to salt roads

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board November 02, 2012 09:31 am

We can’t fault the Oregon Department of Transportation for striving to make the state’s highways safer.

But the recent revelation that ODOT plans to reverse, albeit in a limited sense, the state’s long-standing aversion to spreading salt on its roads seems to us an unnecessary expenditure of time and money.

We use the word “revelation” intentionally.

ODOT didn’t ask the public, or even the state Transportation Commission, what it thinks before setting up the five-year pilot project.

The Oregonian reported last week that ODOT plans to experiment with rock salt, which melts snow and ice, on an 11-mile stretch of Interstate 5 near the California border, and the 120-mile section of U.S. Highway 95 in the state’s southeastern corner between Idaho and Nevada.

ODOT officials chose those highways because the three bordering states all salt their highways, creating the potential for drivers entering Oregon to almost immediately go from wet pavement to ice or packed snow.

ODOT didn’t offer The Oregonian any proof that this transition is responsible for highway crashes.

The evidence is overwhelming, though, that spreading salt on highways accelerates the growth of rust on cars.

Salt also can pollute streams and groundwater sources.

It’s not as if ODOT is powerless to deal with slippery highways.

The agency already uses deicing liquids that aren’t as likely as salt to damage cars or the environment.

Moreover, the prevalence of technological advances — key among them better studless snow tires and electronic stability-control systems, the latter mandatory on all new cars starting with the 2012 model year — has contributed to an unprecedented decline in highway deaths in Oregon. 

In 2010, a total of 292 people died in highway crashes in the state, the fewest in more than 60 years.

The death toll rose slightly in 2011, to 310, but the rate is down 3 percent from last year so far in 2012.

Oregon’s roads, based on the volume of traffic, have never been safer. Salt might not make things safer, but they’ll definitely introduce new problems.