Slip, slidin' away: Road crews are doing what they can to scratch away at ice
Driving on area roads right now is a slippery adventure. It's hard to stop - and start rolling - at intersections. Fishtailing vehicles and minor fender-benders are a common sight. And ice-pocked roads are making for a bumpy ride.
Street crews are trying their best to help drivers keep their grip but the weather has been challenging.
Alexandria street crews typically use a mixture of 90 percent sand and 10 percent salt to put on slippery spots. When it's especially cold, around the 0 mark like it's been lately, they add more salt and go to a 50-50 mix.
But even that doesn't always do the trick. "When it gets 10 below or so, it doesn't work," said Bryan Bjorgaard, Alexandria Public Works coordinator.
Bjorgaard said that residents have told him that salt on their sidewalks melts the ice even when it's 20-below zero, but there's a catch: Using that much salt on streets throughout the city would be very expensive, Bjorgaard said.
"Ice is the worst thing on our budget," he said.
Even though the street department received a new budget on January 1, expenses are up from this time last year because of the snow and ice storms.
The budget is impacted the most when snowstorms hit on weekends or holidays when employees would have to be paid overtime, Bjorgaard said. He noted that with the last snow storm, crews worked on Friday, New Year's Eve, then took Saturday, New Year's Day, off before clearing the snow again on Sunday.
"That's where it hurts - on weekends and holidays. If we could just get the storms to come in during the week, we'd be OK," he said with a chuckle.
The street department has a large fleet of vehicles to deal with the snow and ice - six plow trucks, two motor graders, two front-end loaders, a big snowblower, six hauling trucks and a pickup.
After a significant snowfall, city crews are able to get all the streets plowed in eight hours, Bjorgaard said.
Ice, however, is a lot more stubborn to remove. Mother Nature is the department's best ally. Even if it's only zero degrees outside, sun and traffic can raise the temperature on the streets to 20 degrees, which makes the sand/salt mixture more effective.
Of course, if it gets above freezing, the ice melts or turns to slush, which can be plowed away. But in the meantime, the crews will be out there, doing the best they can to get at the ice, Bijorgaard said.
"We've been able to scrape and scratch away at it - and it's not just the city; the county and MnDOT are having a tough time too," Bjorgaard said. "We're doing what we can do while living within the means of our budget."