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Highway Users Urges Strong, Timely Investment in Road Salt in Light of Supply and Demand Factors

For Immediate Release

NEWS RELEASE

Contact: Bruce Hamilton, 202.857.1200, brucehamilton@highways.org

(WASHINGTON, DC) – The impact of winter weather on the nation’s roadways is so severe that transportation officials should consider significant up-front investment in adequate road salt supplies well before the season hits, according to a new report by the American Highway Users Alliance.

The report, “Road Salt: A Primer on the Factors Affecting Supply and Demand,” finds that highway authorities that stock up on at least an average year’s worth of salt needs by the start of autumn stand to benefit greatly, as compared with those whose storage capacities or budget limitations do not allow for such stockpiling. With the country’s major transportation networks – such as highways and inland waterways – generally operating efficiently during spring and summer months, salt supplies and shipping availability tend to be most stable, cost-effective, and reliable during this time.

Recognizing that some agencies may struggle to meet this goal, the report offers a number of recommendations, including partnering with neighboring jurisdictions to order, store, and share road salt; considering innovative financing strategies; and keeping careful track of how the specific conditions each winter are affecting wholesale salt supplies.

“Road salt is a crucial safety product,” said Greg Cohen, President and CEO of the American Highway Users Alliance, a non-profit transportation association. “Spreading salt cuts crashes and injuries by close to 90 percent, and a substantial body of research exists showing how to maximize its lifesaving potential, and mitigate any environmental impacts of application.”

The report notes that road salt, a deicer, is distinct from an abrasive like sand, in that it melts and facilitates the removal of snow and ice, rather than simply increasing vehicle traction on wintry roads. With a previously-released study by IHS Global Insight finding that state losses due to impassable roads can reach $300-$700 million per day, timely salt spreading yields a tremendous return on investment, and generally pays for itself within 25 minutes of application. This makes it all the more worthwhile to buy early and invest in capacity increases, according to the Highway Users.

With geological data showing that salt is essentially a limitless resource, and overall mining production remaining relatively stable year-to-year, the report finds that the main challenges agencies face in securing large enough quantities to meet local and regional needs include:

  • Transportation and logistics challenges, which become especially difficult when mid-winter resupply orders are needed;
  • Budget constraints, including possible aversion to high up-front expenditures well in advance of winter; and
  • Lack of storage capacity, which may further be governed by certain environmental regulations.

Still, through interviews with salt customers and suppliers, the report identified numerous best practices and several key success stories.

“In one case in the Midwest, we’ve seen a partnership among municipalities and a landfill to construct a facility large enough for a massive, shared quantity of salt, which they can now purchase at such a discounted rate that the savings have paid off the capital investment,” Cohen said.

In addition to interviews, the report draws on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as existing research into the safety and economic effects of winter weather events.

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The American Highway Users Alliance represents motorists, RV enthusiasts, truckers, bus companies, motorcyclists, and a broad cross-section of businesses that depend on safe and efficient highways to transport their families, customers, employees, and products. Highway Users members pay the taxes that finance the federal highway program and advocate public policies that dedicate those taxes to improved highway safety and mobility.

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