Rhode Island enters winter maintenance season committed to reducing salt usage

Dec. 26, 2019

America’s smallest state uses a higher amount of salt per lane mile than any other state

The Rhode Island DOT has made its position on winter salt use clear—they intend to reduce their use of it.

According to a USA Today survey, Rhode Island uses more salt per mile of lanes than any other state. In response to the survey, RIDOT officials said the agency is “actively taking steps to carefully monitor” road salt use while balancing the need to provide safe driving conditions.

The state’s maintenance fleet does not use live-edge plows that conform to the road, but said it has volunteered to pilot them. RIDOT officials have also invested in custom “bridge-washing trucks” that remove salt and other debris from infrastructure in the summer months to reduce ancillary salt degradation of its bridge inventory assets.

Rhode Island, being a coastal state in the northeast, experiences a wide range of temperature swings and precipitation types throughout the season,” said a statement from RIDOT. “Winter operation decisions vary from inland to coastal towns.”

The state’s Department of Environmental Management (DEM) does have regulations in place to assess or address chloride contamination from salt. An in-place permitting system requires industrial facilities to cover any salt piles that present a risk of unregulated runoff, and road-salt storage facilities built in areas where groundwater is presumed to be used for drinking water must also cover salt piles larger than 100 cu yd with a weatherproof structure. Smaller piles must be covered with a waterproof covering and sit on an impermeable base, officials said.

DEM monitors chloride levels in rivers throughout the state and has found that over the past 30 years there have been alarming increases, including 200% in the Blackstone River, 160% in the Branch River, 70% in the Pawcatuck River, and 60% in the Pawtuxet River.

RIDOT, in effort to utilize alternative methods of salt control, has begun to employ GPS-linked systems on its plow trucks to track location and salt use; air and pavement temperature sensors to assess conditions; brine trucks to pre-treat roads ahead of storms; and a salt-wetting system that decreases the likelihood of salt bouncing off the road.

The state has been looking for methods of overall system improvement for a few years now, since the advent of its 10-year RhodeWorks program.

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