Road salt prices rise as winter nears

Following a particularly harsh winter, several states are finding a low supply of road salt at a high price, according to a recent Associated Press story.

In areas like Detroit, road commissions are paying almost 120 percent more than previous years, the story said, while states closer to Pennsylvania, like Ohio, are paying a locked-in price between $50 and $80 a ton.

For PennDOT, which plows and treats the state roads of Pennsylvania, salt pricing hasn’t been an issue yet, said communication relations coordinator Marla Fannin.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in pricing,” she said in an email, “but a large percentage of our supply was purchased at last year’s prices.”

This was possible because last year’s contract didn’t expire until June, she said.

All salt in District 2, which covers nine counties including Centre, she said, comes from American Rock Salt. American Rock Salt commercial sales offices for Pennsylvania are located in Union Dale, Susquehanna County.

For State College itself, salt prices have risen by 10 percent this year, according to an email by Public Works Director Mark Whitfield, costing the borough $69.31 per ton for an average of 1,400 tons of bulk salt.

The borough also piggybacks off the annual PennDOT contract to get a better price, he said.

When it comes to how much salt is needed for the winter, formulas vary.

Ferguson Township Public Works Director David Modricker said the township has the ability to store 1,000 tons, which gets them through the ups and downs of winter. The township has ordered 1,200 tons, and has committed to purchasing 60 percent of that order, meaning they are obligated to purchase 720 tons.

“For us, salt got low last year,” he said, saying only 200 to 300 tons were left by the end of winter. “How full the shed is helps us decide how much we need.”

The township keeps records of the number of snow and ice events over a season and how many times salt was applied, he said. Last winter, there were 29 events considered plowable or saltable. Sometimes trucks have to do several rounds during a single event as well, he said.

PennDOT looks at a five-year use average from county to county, Fannin said. They also review snowfall amounts from the previous winter.

“Generally, we can order up to 130 percent of our overall estimate for each county,” she said, “or as low as 75 percent.”

The need to conserve salt has also lead to some new tactics and equipment.

State College continues to purchase and outfit its fleet of plow and salt spreading trucks with “better equipment which can be easily calibrated to minimize or maximize the amount of salt materials being applied by each unit,” Whitfield said.

The borough has also adopted a plow more/salt less policy, which has reduced salt usage, he said.

Ferguson Township uses salt brine, a mixture of water and salt, typically applied to roads prior to snowfall, as well as pre-wet salt, which helps melt the salt and keeps it from bouncing, Modricker said. Anti-skid material is also used. This fine stone chip can be purchased at $10.95 per ton and mixed with salt to create a 50/50 layer of salt and anti-skid.

On residential streets, he said, the township will sometimes plow but not salt flat streets, instead concentrating on the hills and curves of the township.

“We do live in Pennsylvania, where there can be as many as 30 snow events,” Modricker said. “Chains are still a great thing. People shouldn’t always rely on having black roads in the middle of a snowstorm all the time. Snow tires are a great help.”