December 2, 2010 5:25 PM
As I drove into work this morning I noticed a trail of water down West Washington Avenue and around the Square in front of my office at the City County Building. As it dried during the course of the day I noticed that it turned into a pale white film. That's a new technique to help keep our streets clear before the first winter storm of the season, which is expected to start on Friday evening.
This year we're experimenting with a salt brine spray on about 200 miles of arterial streets. The brine is being applied about a day before the first storm to prevent the snow from binding to the pavement as it did last year. The first storm is always a tricky one and not just because drivers need to tune up their winter driving skills. In early December the pavement temperatures are still pretty warm and there haven't been earlier storms that brought out the salt trucks. So, the combination of melting snow on salt-less streets followed by plunging temperatures can result in ice binding to the street. It can take days for the sun and warmer temperatures to melt it. The pre-wetting with brine should help.
In addition to the brine trucks, we're also going to work smarter this year with pavement temperature sensors and new professional weather forecasting that will include pavement temperature forecasts. This will help us target our efforts more precisely.
None of this changes our salt reduction policy. Too much road salt damages our lakes. The new brine strategy might actually help us reduce salt use later on during a storm.
You can get real-time updates on our storm fighting strategies and more winter activity information at the city's website at www.cityofmadison.com/winter.