County runs out of salt as it battles icy roads

January 20, 1994|By Larry Carson and Glenn Small | Larry Carson and Glenn Small,Staff Writers

Despite two days of work by highway crews, Baltimore County's main local feeder roads remained treacherous and ice-clogged yesterday, giving motorists and police fits.

Even the heavily traveled streets next to police and fire headquarters and the county courthouse in central Towson were reduced to skid zones as the local government struggled to supply itself with salt and sand and keep its diesel trucks running.

In fact, the 300 county workers using 160 salt trucks completely ran out of salt yesterday. The county scrambled to get an emergency shipment of 25 truckloads last night.

"On this storm alone, we've already spread 5,760 tons of salt," said Ann Dandridge, director of the Office of Communications. In a normal winter, the county spreads some 20,000 tons of salt. This year so far, the amount used already exceeds 25,000 tons, she said.

Ms. Dandridge said the county hoped to get another shipment of salt this morning. Meanwhile, county road crews were spreading sand on slick roadways and saving whatever salt they had for emergencies.

While state-maintained arteries such as the Baltimore Beltway (Interstate 695), I-83, York Road and Reisterstown Road were clear, many of the main feeder roads maintained by the county were barely passable, and some had to be closed.

County Administrative Officer Mereen E. Kelly said that state roads are more heavily traveled than county arteries, which helped keep them clear even as the snow and freezing rain were falling on them.

Bureau of Highways Chief C. Richard Moore noted that the county can store only 10,000 tons of salt at one time, compared to the state's local capacity of 20,000 to 30,000 tons. The state, he said, can spread a lot more salt and do it more quickly.

Yesterday's record cold temperatures created special problems for county public works crews, too.

Mr. Moore said the diesel fuel in the big county snow trucks jelled overnight because of the cold, and most were disabled until special fuel additives could be put in their tanks.

When the county arranged yesterday to buy 5,000 tons of sand to be spread on especially slippery roadways, the sand quarry's front end loader quit with the same frozen-fuel problem, according to Central Services Director John Miller.

Mr. Miller said the county is also trying to buy calcium chlorate, a chemical designed to make road salt more effective under 22 degrees.

Mr. Moore said that, for example, the slippery intersection of Burke Avenue and Hillen Road, just east of Towson, was closed Tuesday evening and a salt truck treated the spot that night.

But by noon yesterday, the intersection was as slick as ever. A reporter saw a county police car skid out of control, despite its tire chains, while his own car slid 180 degrees.

"People have to use caution," said Police Officer Joseph Stricker. "The roads are bad. We don't have enough manpower or equipment to close all the roads that need closing."

Adding to the difficulties, county road crews asked police to try to keep open as many roads as possible because traffic helps salt and sand work on the ice, said Ms. Dandridge.

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