Road salt bad for cars, but necessary for survivalBlaine...


January 18, 1993

Road salt bad for cars, but necessary for survival

Blaine Brooks of Woodlawn thinks we're in the midst of a salt assault.

Whenever there's the slightest chance of snow or ice, he points out, the roads in Maryland are peppered with salt. The stuff causes damage to cars, corrodes the metallic structures in bridges and parking garages, and hurts the environment when it runs off into ditches and streams or leaches into the ground water.

"Why do we have to have a dry pavement?" Mr. Brooks asks. "All you really need is traction. Why not spread cinders like they do in other states?"

Cutting back on salt could also save money. The State Highway Administration spends more than $11 million on snow removal and road salt each year. An estimated 104,919 tons of salt is spread on 15,464 lane-miles of state-maintained roads in an average winter season.

A report issued in 1991 by the Transportation Research Board confirmed Mr. Brooks' observation that salt causes tremendous damage. "More than 20 years after the adverse side effects of road salt first came to light, the total cost of salting continues to be high," the report concluded.

Specifically, the authors estimated the annual costs of salt damage to motor vehicles, roads, bridges and overpasses amounts to be somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion.

That's a lot of money to have to salt away each year.

The study stopped short of recommending use of a more expensive chemical called calcium magnesium acetate, an alternative that is not yet widely used. But it suggested that jurisdictions spread salt more efficiently and store and handle it in a more environmentally sensitive manner.

State highway officials say they are always trying to lessen their salt intake, but there are numerous reasons why sodium chloride will continue to be used here.

While some rural areas may get away with using sand or an aggregate, parts of Maryland such as the Baltimore-Washington corridor face greater volumes of traffic.

There are numerous bridges that ice over in central Maryland, they said, and hundreds of thousands of commuters with minimal experience driving in wintry weather.

"I don't want to say that Maryland drivers aren't capable, but they don't get a lot of opportunities to drive in snow," says Valerie Burnette, an agency spokeswoman.

The SHA does use sand, particularly in Western Maryland, in combination with salt, which loses its effectiveness at temperatures below 18 degrees (another reason why northern states use it less). The agency, she says, takes pains to store salt properly and use it sparingly. It has, for instance, installed equipment that reduces the salt output when the vehicles that spread it slow down.

Intrepid Commuter is all for a pristine environment and spending less money on bridge repair, but when lives are at stake, it seems best to err on the side of safety -- even if it means a few more trips to the car wash.

One fare way to save money

Psssst. You want to get a good deal on a bus ticket?

Don't tell anyone how you found out about this, but we've discovered a way to get a price discount without having to buy those expensive monthly passes from the Mass Transit Administration.

For $11, you can buy a weekly pass. If you make 10 trips a week on the bus, that's a saving of 10 percent off the cash fare. If you ride more often than that, there's an even bigger saving.

The MTA started honoring the passes for the first time yesterday, the same day the base fare increased from $1.10 to $1.25.

Valid Sunday through Saturday, the weekly pass is like paying the old fare -- 10 times $1.10.

Passes are good for unlimited travel in Baltimore and can be purchased beginning the Thursday before they go into effect. They're available at the MTA's transit store at 300 West Lexington St., at the Metro newsstands in Charles Center, Mondawmin and Owings Mills Metro stations and at participating monthly pass sales outlets.

Are we there yet? Approaching 'zero block'

Baltimore 45 miles.

Just what does that sign along the highway mean?

A recent SUNDIAL caller wants to know "exactly where does the Transportation Department start measuring the distance from the city? Is that the distance to the harbor or the city limits?"

Neither, as it turns out.

Tom Hicks of the State Highway Administration tells us that highway signs generally are measured from what residents regard as the center of town. In the case of Baltimore, that's the so-called "zero block," the intersection of Charles and Baltimore streets near the Inner Harbor. For many other cities, the center may be the courthouse, city hall or some other landmark.

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