Here comes Santa Claus — and c-c-c-older weather, and icy roads.
By early February, Johnson City already had used about five times the average amount of road salt it spread over roads and streets during each of the previous five fiscal years, so officials had no choice but to move with haste to increase the amount it had on hand.
The city’s Public Works Department appears to be set for Old Man Winter this time around.
“We had 1,500 tons on hand and budgeted another 3,000 tons this year, which gives us 4,500 tons,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works director. “We are comfortable that we have enough salt to get us through a normal to heavy winter. We also have changed some of our techniques.”
Pindzola said crews will continue to concentrate first on the major arteries when a snow event occurs, such as State of Franklin Road and Market Street. The next areas that will see salt are the collector streets, the streets that feed into and out of the main streets, and residential areas that are hilly. Flat streets in subdivisions and other residential areas will be tended to, but these streets will more than likely be plowed clean.
“We’re also spraying salt brine on the salt that’s loaded into the trucks before they go out,” Pindzola added. “We’ll use that when temperatures are in the high 20s. When it gets below that, we’ll spray the salt with magnesium chloride, which is effective down to zero.”
The first few times snow hits local roads, it should not stay for very long because the asphalt is still warm enough to deter it from sticking. But as everyone knows, there will be times when the trucks are out in full force.
The city uses about 600 tons during a typical snow event, but costs escalate when things get tough.
When that happens, workers are paid time and a half when they work weekends and typically work a 24-hour cycle in 12-hour shifts. A total of 30 workers making about $20 per hour for a 48-hour stint costs the city about $30,000, Pindzola said. The salt used during a big storm event might be about 1,000 tons. When the cost of gas and other essentials are added, a severe storm event can end up costing about $120,000, he said.
“We’ll continue 24 hours a day until everything’s clear,” he said.
In February, with only 500 tons on hand, the City Commission approved the purchase of 1,500 tons of road salt from North American Salt. That’s in addition to the 1,500 tons purchased last January which was spewed onto city streets between Jan. 30 and Feb. 1.
Though it appears the city will have enough salt on hand this year to go around, the cost jumped from $81 a ton last year to $83 a ton this year, and the price of salt has almost doubled over the last four to five years. The 3,000 tons acquired this year cost nearly $250,000.
North American has a distribution point in Knoxville from which salt is trucked across the country. It receives salt from barges that make their way up the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River. The Gulf Coast serves as the starting point for most deliveries.
Meanwhile, residents may as well ready themselves for the inevitable multitude of holes, gouges, cracks and otherwise annoying eroded asphalt that will need repair after the freezing temperatures do what they do year after year. Potholes are formed when moisture gets into cracks on the road’s asphalt. During the cold weather, the moisture freezes and thaws which expands and contracts the asphalt. Consequently, the asphalt then cracks inward when vehicles drive over this unstable asphalt creating — a pothole.
The city is divided into eight maintenance zones and workers will, when weather permits, conduct regular sweeps. Asphalt trucks supplied with “hot mix” will be deployed when the time is right, and the city will be doing weekly status reports that involve identifying various reports from the public.
While the city attempts to repair all potholes, repairs are mainly made to deeper potholes in colder weather which can be immediately filled for safety and repaired later during warmer weather. Shallow potholes which have separated from a layer of asphalt underneath are mostly repaired during the warmer weather. Regardless of type, each pothole reported will be reviewed to decide on which approach is best to take at that time based on the hazard they pose to drivers and weather conditions.
Pothole reports can be reported online by going to www.johnsoncitytn.org and entering “pothole patrol” in the search field. Residents can fill out and submit forms with information and locations of problem potholes.