ONTARIO, ORE. - Idaho and Oregon commuters have grown accustomed to lengthy closures on Interstate 84 through much of eastern Oregon once the snow and ice hits.
To prepare for this cold season, the Oregon Department of Transportation is ramping up its winter maintenance operation.
Specifically, adding bigger plows to their fleet and using rock salt instead of de-icer.
For the past several years, ODOT has been testing using rock salt on U.S. 95 between the Jordan Valley area and the Idaho border as opposed to de-icer.
Paul Woodworth, a manager with ODOT, says rock salt is 100 percent salt, while de-icer is diluted, usually about 28 percent salt.
"In one application you can get a lot more of active product on the surface at one time," explains Woodworth.
This year, for the first time, ODOT is also using rock salt on several busy stretches of I-84 frequented by commuters.
"We're now going to be using salt on Interstate 84 from the Idaho border all the way through what we call Region Five, which is all the way through eastern Oregon, up to about Boardman on Interstate 84," says Woodworth.
While rock salt may be more effective, there are drawbacks.
Such as being hard on the environment, the pavement and vehicles.
"Our approach to that is use the least amount required to accomplish the mission," says Woodworth.
In addition to salt, the agency added two more heavy duty plows.
One is a tow plow.
It can dispense de-icer, sand and now salt, while the trailer swings around to the side plowing snow off two lanes of traffic at once.
Also new, a double-winged rig used specifically for drifting snow.
Both can clear two lanes of the freeway in one pass, essentially doing double the work.
"With less rounds it reduces our fuel and man hours and labor and improves efficiency," says Morgan Beck, a snow plow operator with ODOT.
"Our philosophy is the less time the road is slick, the fewer crashes are going to happen, and the fewer delays and closures and those kinds of things," adds Woodworth.
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