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Salt still cheapest way for Grundy County to keep roads safe

MORRIS – The county will spend thousands to keep the roads safe and clear of ice this winter.

Grundy County Engineer Craig Cassem said salt remains the cheapest way to de-ice wintry roads. Grundy County buys about 2,500 tons of salt for itself and several municipalities throughout the county. This year, the county will pay $49.67 for one ton of road salt.

Unlike Morris – which buys road salt directly from Morton Salt company – the county works with the Illinois Department of Transportation to purchase their salt. Cassem said they provide IDOT with an estimate of how much is needed and IDOT purchases the salt at the best market price it can find.

“We are obligated to take 70 percent of the estimate, but can’t take over 120 percent,” Cassem said.

Cassem said they look at weather patterns and other factors when deciding how much salt to purchase. Usually, the county uses most of the salt purchased.

“A few years ago when it was very mild, we had to store some extra salt that we didn’t have enough space for,” Cassem said. “We worked it out with the city of Morris so that we could store the extra at the old paper mill.”

Aside from being the cheapest de-icer, salt – or sodium chloride – is also one of the most corrosive. Salt damages roads, bridges and waterways, which creates hidden, external costs for the county.

“Salt is hard on bridges so we are putting protective coverings, or waterproofing membranes, on a lot of our bridges now,” Cassem said. “It keeps the salt from getting down into the concrete and the steel rebar within the concrete.”

Bridges without the treatment corrode much faster than those with it.

“That’s one of the big drawbacks of using chlorides,” Cassem said.

The county also pays for additives to combine with salt so it will work at lower temperatures. For years, the county used calcium chloride but switched to an vegetable-based, organic additive known as GeoMelt 55 three years ago because it was much less corrosive.

“Over the last three or four years, we’ve been adding the beet juice additive, which still makes the salt work at lower temperatures, but it’s not as corrosive,” Cassem said.

Morris uses sand to help mitigate their salt use.

“We buy in the neighborhood of 350 tons [of salt], and we probably go through that many more tons of slag sand or cinders,” said Jim Gretencord, director of Public Works for Morris.

Gretencord said they usually don’t need more salt than they budget for, but have the option of buying extra from the county.

“It’s hard to budget for that [salt],” Gretencord said. “Every year is different.”

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