You knew it was bound to happen and now it has officially gone viral today. People are puling and whining about transportation officials in the


Forget the Fish. Salt Kills Our Cars! Update: Dec. 24

You knew it was bound to happen and now it has officially gone viral today. People are puling and whining about transportation officials in the region not using salt to melt snow from area roadways, particularly in Seattle.

The Seattle Times ran a story quoting a flunky at the Seattle Department of Transportation saying that the city doesn't use salt to clear the roads because it is "not a healthy addition to Puget Sound". The article has drawn well over 400 angry remarks.

Outrage! Hysteria! Particularly from folks looking for any excuse to skewer the liberals running the show here for not doing a better job at dealing the apocalyptic nature of a few inches of lousy snow.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin - who lived here a few years and should know better - graces the region with the award "Enviro-Nitwits of the day".

The Shark at Sound Politics warns "Compromising Public Safety - By Design"

Oh noes! The environmentalists are at it again!

Here's the deal. The Times may or may not have accurately quoted Mr. Alex Wiggins at SDOT. And whether he really thinks salt will pollute Puget Sound, or more accurately, the riparian habitat in the Puget Sound basin is beside the point.

Because the real reason the state, and local municipalities, don't salt the roads is that it rots out every car, semi-truck and bus that has a scratch or a ding on its paint-job.

Personally, I can't count the number of times I've heard some out-of-stater say something like, "You guys don't know what you're doing because you don't salt the roads. Back in (insert name of a crap-hole city back east) we salted the roads all the time!"

That's nice. And after five or six years of driving in brine, your car rusts out from the fenders, doors and undercarriage.

As a complete coincidence, I also can't count the number of times out-of-staters tell me "I've never seen so many classic cars in one place. Back home all the cool old Fords and Chevy's are all rusted out."

Gee. Maybe it's because we're smart enough in this state not to salt the roads?

This isn't meant to disparage how other people do their thing elsewhere.

If the Seattle-Metro area routinely received two, three or ten feet of snow a year, then using salt might be a good alternative. But the region doesn't get that much white stuff.

Besides. Driving in the snow isn't that difficult. It is absolutely flabbergasting that people can be given drivers licenses when they don't even know the basics of commuting in inclement weather.

As someone who does grasp the arcane arts of counter-steering and down-shifting, I don't want my car developing cancer of the fender just because people can't commute on hard-pack snow.

If you have a front or four-wheel drive vehicle with anything approaching decent tires, you should be able to ascend every reasonable hill in the region. And if you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, you should be able to travel on most flat surfaces and streets with a minor grade and have no problem.

Since Snowpocalypse has befallen this region of sinners, I've driven up the Sammamish Plateau three times, climbed West Seattle twice, conquered Capitol Hill, scooted along the streets of Downtown and ascended Phinney Ridge. Hell, I even tried my luck going up the back way of Queen Anne Hill and had no problems.

Admittedly, there was no way I was climbing the hill from Lower Queen Anne. Only a fool tries to go up or down the Counterbalance in this weather.

That's not to say the city should be given a free pass. But if you're going to criticize the City of Seattle, get your facts straight first.

WSDOT has kicked Old Man Winter's ass by keeping all of the major highways in the area bare and dry, just by using sand and liquid de-icer. And the de-icer is far worse for riparian habitat than salt, by-the-way. Yet it works and unlike salt, it doesn't rot out your $30,000 car. Or $500 bike. Or $3,000 scooter. Or $100,000 bus or semi-truck.

Saltless In Seattle: WSDOT has tested a couple pilot projects in Eastern Washington using rock salt and salt brine to melt snow and ice from roadways.

While the cost effectiveness of using salt is an initial advantage, one of the main concerns is its corrosive nature.

Per WSDOT's website:

During the past two seasons, the WSDOT has been testing the use of salt in its snow and ice program. The Department is using rock salt and salt brine in some areas to evaluate its effectiveness and analyze corrosion. The advantage of salt is its cost and snow melting capabilities. Of course, salt can cause corrosion in some metals.

At least according to WSDOT using salt is just as expensive as non-corrosive de-icer since more salt had to be applied.

During the first two years of testing, results using salt were compared to results using corrosion-inhibited anti-icers. Although the unit cost of salt products is considerably less than the unit cost of corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers, overall costs at the end of a winter season are similar. This is because more salt has to be used, and applied more often, to achieve roadway condition results similar to the corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers. The performance of salt was similar to that of corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers in keeping roads bare and wet during snowy or icy winter conditions. The corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers proved to be consistently less corrosive to steel on motor vehicles than salt, but corrosion to sheet and cast aluminum on vehicles was mixed. In some cases, salt was more corrosive to aluminum. In others, salt was less corrosive to aluminum. Environmental impacts from the use of salt were similar to impacts from the use of corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers. In both cases, chlorides detected in roadside soils and water were far below levels of concern for the protection of the environment and public health. At the end of two years, field-testing data indicated that WSDOT's emphasis on corrosion-inhibiting anti-icers appears to be preferable when compared to an emphasis on using salt.

Update Dec. 24: Got off the horn with a spokesperson with WSDOT. The state uses "all available tools" to clear highways and freeways, including salt brine and rock salt. Working from memory, the state only began doing this sometime within the last couple years. The spokesperson manning the phones couldn't recall exactly when it occured either.

Due to the Christmas holiday and weekends, hopefully I'll have more to report on Monday or Tuesday.

But as for Seattle not using salt, it shouldn't come as any surprise because the city hasn't used rock salt for decades. And the reason had always been that locals don't want their cars to rust out.

Scream and holler but why do expect anything different?

The issue anyway is not the use of salt. But the fact that Seattle isn't plowing streets period. Focus on the big issue and don't let yourself get distracted by a salted red herring.

comments powered by Disqus