Salt, plows can't dent 'bulletproof' ice pack on Twin Cities roads

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 9, 2013 - 1:11 PM

“There isn’t a safe street anywhere,” but salt and plows can’t dent the ice pack on Twin Cities roadways.

Hold tight to those steering wheels and go easy on the accelerators.

Perilously slick roads won’t be improving any time soon despite round-the-clock efforts by Twin ­Cities public works departments. Sidewalks and bikeways also pose a threat.

“Sometimes in a case like this, Mother Nature wins for a while,” said Mike Kennedy, director of transportation maintenance and repair in Minneapolis. “Everything was right to cause the wrong conditions.”

Because of the volume of traffic and the preponderance of on-street parking in Minneapolis and St. Paul, city streets have been in a bad way for the past few days.

Before the salt can start gnawing into what Kennedy called the “bulletproof” ice pack now on the roads, the sun must come out and temperatures need to hit at least 15 degrees. That, however, remains a few days off; Sunday’s temps barely tasted the teens.

Road salt is utterly ineffective on ice when temperatures stay below 10 degrees. Temperatures Monday will be well below that mark, lingering around zero for most of the day. As the week progresses, highs are forecast to slog into double digits. The National Weather Service forecasts the mercury soaring to 23 degrees next Sunday.

From the start of the snowfall in the middle of last week, however, conditions set up the region for jaw-clenchingly slippery, bumpy roads. As the snow fell, the temperature hovered in the 30s, creating a watery slush.

In St. Paul, city spokesman Joe Campbell said the water washed away much of the salty brine crews had used to treat the streets. The pre-storm treatment aims to create conditions that prevent the snow from bonding with the roadway.

Shortly after the dumping of slush, temperatures dropped hard and fast, causing imperviously terrible conditions. Crews worked around the clock through the weekend, but a steady fall of fluffy snow on Sunday actually made the roads worse. Kennedy said the lightweight snow left “greasy conditions” on the roadways underneath a sparkly top coat.

“It’s bad out there,” Kennedy said. “I’m not afraid to use those words. … There isn’t a safe street anywhere.”

He urged caution for drivers, bikers and pedestrians: go slow, increase stopping distances. Current conditions, he noted, are what the roads would look like all winter if the cities didn’t use salt or sand.

In addition to fighting off bad roads, St. Paul City Hall found itself under a verbal avalanche of complaints on social media.

It isn’t for lack of trying to clear the roads that they remain icy.

“Anybody who’s tried to shovel their walk or driveway knows what we’re up against,” Kennedy said. □

 

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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