A new ice fighter
The city of Alexandria has a new ally in the fight against ice: a cutting edge motor grader.
The new blade has been getting a workout since the city's street department received it on January 8.
The cutting edge has "teeth" in it to help scrape off the stubborn ice. The goal, said Public Works Coordinator Bryan Bjorgaard, is to make grooves in the ice without damaging the road. That way, when street crews put down salt and sand on the slippery spots, the mixture will adhere to the grooves instead of being blown away or carried off by vehicle tires.
This winter has been a challenging one for city street crews. The ice started to build up on Christmas weekend, followed by more snow and ice on New Year's weekend.
"We've been battling it ever since," Bjorgaard said.
Unlike the Minnesota Department of Transportation that runs its graders 24 hours a day to repeatedly go over its routes, the city is only able to cover routes once a day. "We just don't have the manpower to do it any more than that," Bjorgaard said.
But the city street crews have been out there every day, from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., either clearing away new snow or fighting the ice that remains by scraping it off bit by bit, Bjorgaard said.
Since January 1, the street department has put down 169 tons of sand and 71 tons of road salt on city streets.
That follows a busy month of December when crews went through nearly 95 tons of sand and 50 tons of salt.
The materials aren't cheap and prices are climbing, Bjorgaard noted. Salt costs $90 per ton, more than twice as much as it was a decade ago.
Clearing away the snow also isn't cheap. Every time it snows a significant amount, Bjorgaard estimated it costs the city $5,200 to send out the plows for an eight-hour shift and that doesn't include fuel or overtime.
The clean-up work the next day costs another $3,000, Bjorgaard estimated.
"We try to be as efficient as we possibly can," Bjorgaard said.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this winter is that there hasn't been a January thaw - a warm spell when the ice turns to slush and can be easily removed.
Instead, the bitterly cold weather has lingered. Even the salt will not work on the ice when temperatures are 15 degrees or colder, Bjorgaard noted.
Once the ice finally does melt, the cutting edge will still have work to do. The street department plans to use it this summer to smooth gravel roads.