Road salt is one of the most important items during the winter months. This is especially true seeing as how already, more than one-third of America’s major roads are in poor condition and winter weather can make them even worse to drive on. But according to a new report from the Michigan Department of Transportation, about half of Michigan’s road salt storage sites are also in poor condition.
Of the 189 county storage facilities, the report shows that 48% of them are in poor condition. This is compared to the 41% that are in good condition and the 11% in fair condition.
The individual sites are owned and managed by the counties they’re in, but the Michigan Department of Transportation helps to maintain them. With the salt being used on state-controlled roads, Michigan lawmakers have now approved a $5 million budget to help repair and upgrade the storage sites. MDOT received $2.5 million under the 2018 budget and will receive an additional $2.5 million for this year.
The report states, “Salt storage facilities that are not structurally sound could be a safety concern to employees. Salt storage facilities that are not fully accessible and functional could impair winter maintenance operations, which may have a downstream effect on the safety of the traveling public.”
With 11% of all car crash fatalities being caused by weather conditions, having easy access to safe supplies of salt is crucial during the winter months. The review by the Office of Auditor General looked at the conditions of each facility, which included a detailed inspection of the floors, walls, lighting, roof, and ventilation systems.
Normally, roofs should be inspected once or twice a year. But facilities like these don’t always get the attention they need. The buildings that were deemed to be in poor condition had a variety of issues like cracked or deteriorated structural supports and holes in the walls or roof.
Based on the poor condition of the facilities, MDOT predicts that it will cost about $4.7 million total to restore 152 of the salt storage sites. Per building, the expenses are expected to vary between $500 and $228,000.
According to Jeff Cranson, MDOT spokesman, “Decades of under-investment in transportation infrastructure — at all levels — have taken their toll on road maintenance budgets so the overall condition of the sheds is much worse than it should be…”
MDOT has a concern that some of the buildings have reached a point where if repairs don’t happen soon, the buildings will become completely unsafe to use. Furthermore, there are environmental concerns with unsafe and improper salt storage. If road salt is continuously exposed to water, the sodium chloride in the salt can run off into nearby streams or fields and can cause a build-up of residue.
The rehabilitation project will be completed over the next two years, requiring work from both county and state organizations.