“We can only do what we can do,” county engineer Larry Smith said.
In Pennsylvania’s Butler County, they’re trying out a product called Beet Heet, made of processed sugar beet molasses, for anti-icing purposes.
Milwaukee road crews are experimenting with liquid cheese brine, mixing it in with rock salt before it goes on the road to make the salt wetter “so it will stick in place instead of bouncing away,” said Sandy Rusch Walton, a spokeswoman with Milwaukee’s Public Works Department.
Elsewhere, communities have cut back.
“As the season goes along, we become stingier,” said Fred Abadi, the public works director in Waukesha.
Motorists have noticed.
When Emira Palacios got into her car in Wichita, Kan., Tuesday, as another storm rolled in, “none of the streets had salt,” she said. “It is a little scary.”
Wichita has received only about 800 tons of the 3,000 tons of salt it ordered. So salt is being mixed with sand and road crews are given just enough of the mixture to cover emergency routes. When the salt runs out, road crews will use sand alone.
But sand has its limitations and can even create problems.
“Sand gives you some traction to get started, to stop, but it doesn’t do any melting,” said Joseph T. Pajor, deputy director of the city’s public works and utilities department.
Some communities have been told by suppliers that they must make do with the salt they have; no more is coming. Others have found salt for sale, but it must be transported by train from as far away as Utah or Canada.
Or they have been offered salt that is on barges, but that salt must be loaded onto trucks because the barges are stuck on frozen rivers and waterways.
“So the municipalities that could buy bulk salt early in the year at $53 a ton are now paying $130 a ton a week ago,” said Tom Breier, general manager of Ice Melt Chicago, which sells salt to cities and school districts. “And I heard the prices have gone up to $175 to $180 a ton. It could easily go to $200 a ton or more.”