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Saturday, January 28, 2023

An In-Depth Look into St. Paul Icy Roads

If that’s the correct word, St. Paul drivers were given an ice Christmas, with freezing temperatures added to the snow’s already substantial accumulation. Since temperatures have soared by more than 30 degrees, several locals have questioned whether more might have been done to improve the state of the roads over the holiday weekend.

After declaring a 96-hour snow emergency on December 21, the city stopped salting regular residential streets and started utilizing plows to remove snow from curb to curb.

St. Paul Public Works decided to forgo applying road salt to key arterial roadways during the weekend’s cold snap (and even further below with wind chill), sticking instead to applying sand to increase wheel grip, concentrating on junctions, bends, slopes, and complaint-prone locations.

Sean Kershaw, director of St. Paul Public Works, stated on Wednesday that “salt doesn’t function below 5 degrees.” “We take care not to add salt to the system when it clearly isn’t working. Eventually, it enters the canal system directly. It is economically and environmentally responsible. In essence, it was too chilly to use salt.

That differs somewhat from the approach taken by other nearby cities last week, including as Minneapolis and Maplewood. The problem is that while sand may aid vehicles in navigating slippery places, ice is not truly melted by it. And because automobiles drive over it, it disperses fast, necessitating more treatments.

Public works staff have shifted back to applying salt this week as temperatures have climbed.

On Wednesday, Kershaw also attempted to debunk the myth that the city had ran out of sand and neglected to restock.

There was a scarcity of sand, he claimed, according to a rumor. “There was no deficiency. You can see the shed from here.

Why aren’t St. Paul streets as comprehensible as, say, Roseville or Maplewood, has kind of become a recurrent topic following snowfalls. How do they measure up against Minneapolis, too?

Beth Dahlman, a resident of St. Paul who went out with her husband on Wednesday, described the previous night as “quite slick.” We traveled yesterday by car to Minneapolis. It was amazing how much better things were once we crossed the Lake Street bridge. It was difficult to see any pavement on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul due to the snow and ice. Then after that, as we continued down Minneapolis’ Lake Street, we could see a lot more pavement.

The timing of when residents are required to move their cars out of the way during snow emergencies varies across adjacent communities, according to Kershaw, who said he traveled to the roadways during the holiday weekend and didn’t see a big difference between St. Paul and those places. Gaining compliance is much simpler because many areas don’t permit overnight parking in the public right-of-way throughout the year.

To receive that much snow right before it gets that cold is uncommon, according to Kershaw. “We finished all of the snow emergency plowing on schedule. The only thing was the cold. I believe our crews did a fantastic job of finishing everything on schedule.

When temperatures dropped last week across the river in Minneapolis, Public Works personnel continued to apply salt while also adding sand.

Casper Hill, a media relations coordinator for the city of Minneapolis, wrote in an email on Thursday, “With the single digit temps late last week, we used a mix of sand and treated salt.” Even treated salt will not activate in extremely cold temperatures, yet the recent snow storm had good results.

Road salt that has been “treated” consists of liquid deicing agents that have been added to regular rock salt to make it melt more quickly than untreated salt.

Additionally, St. Paul’s strategy differs from that of Maplewood, a nearby community. According to Bryan Nagel, street supervisor of Maplewood Public Works, the city uses a processed salt produced by Cargill coupled with liquid brine to treat all of its roadways, from major thoroughfares to residential side streets.

Following at least three reported automobile accidents last week, Maplewood Public Works personnel placed sand along Roselawn Avenue and Edgerton Street. Otherwise, Maplewood clung to the brine and salt solution.

The suburb is around one-seventh the size of the city and does not permit overnight parking between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. year-round, making compliance with snow emergency protocols easier. These are the two main distinctions between St. Paul and Maplewood.

Using sand to treat roads is sometimes more an art than a science, according to Matthew Morreim, street maintenance manager for St. Paul Public Works. Truck operators are required to make decisions about which road segments require further care. Although calls from the general public also direct their hand and their plows, intersections are given priority.

Outside of complaints, it’s up to our operators’ judgment, Morreim stated. St. Paul is curved and steep. Numerous locations between junctions also receive treatment. They are operating their routes, but if they receive complaints, they will divert to address them.

We do have treated salt, which will work down to 5 to 10 degrees, he continued. Few of the things we typically use will operate effectively in temperatures between zero and minus ten degrees.

As temperatures have climbed since Christmas, according to Morreim, work has continued all week using conventional road salt.

We’ve been salting, cleaning up, and working on arterial roads quite a bit over the past 24 hours, he added.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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