One of the hidden costs of winter road maintenance is its affect on the environment. Much of the salt applied to keep roads ice free finds its way into soil and waterways. Toxins found in fish, either from surface water or metals dissolved in water by salt, are among the toxic effects of excessive salt usage. A municipality’s ability to supply quality drinking water is also compromised by surface or groundwater that’s contaminated with salt. Soil retains salt year after year, destroying its ability to sustain plants leading to increased erosion. Also, salt residues by the side of roads serve as an enticing salt lick, luring animals into dangerous on-road encounters with vehicles.
“We cannot keep trading short-term cost for long-term cost.”
Reducing salt usage is good for the environment and fits well with municipal, provincial, and state environmental efforts. To address environmental concerns, some municipalities have experimented with other solutions over rock salt, such as using calcium magnesium acetate (as it has far fewer toxic effects). While less toxic, calcium magnesium acetate has the drawback of taking longer to melt ice than rock salt and it’s 20 times more expensive.
One remedy is to drastically reduce the use of cheap rock salt and phase in one or more of the expensive alternatives. But to really reduce your salt usage, you need to increase your ability to track excessive salt usage with precision—especially when it comes to third-party contractors (some of whom charge for salt and thus may be incentivized to use it to excess).
In 2009, The City of Ottawa implemented the InterFleet winter operations solution for government fleets. By gaining the ability to identify excess salt usage by its contractors, the City reduced its salt costs by 20%.
“Installing GPS technology in our salt spreader vehicles is a great way to help us reduce the amount of road salt we use, and reduce costs at the same time,” said Mayor Larry O’Brien, “By installing these systems, we will both prolong the life of City infrastructure and keep more money in the pockets of Ottawa taxpayers.”
In Ottawa, where they don’t use contractors, InterFleet’s Live Material Monitoring tool saves costs by highlighting in real time when an operator is using pure salt (icon appears red), as opposed to the environmentally friendly alternatives (such as pre-wet applications, allowing for less overall salt usage).
Other government scenarios, which use contractors, utilize InterFleet’s real-time visibility to verify contractor compliance with salt-usage standards. This is particularly advantageous if contractors are charging for salt used.
The most impressive advantage of InterFleet’s real-time visibility is that, unlike passive GPS tools that merely store data and upload it when the vehicle returns to the yard, live data allows a fleet manager to bring immediate attention to help an operator if salt levels are too high. Real-time alerts provide operational efficiency that can foster an environment of cooperation between government and its third-party contractors, and in the end, less salt on the roads means a better environment for everyone.