Lawrence city officials are hoping that a little salt water will help with snow and ice this winter — and no, they’re not talking about a trip to a warm seaside beach.
A select group of major city streets will get sprayed by city crews with a saltwater solution prior to each forecasted winter storm. The brine is designed to make it more difficult for snow and ice to accumulate on the roads.
“The other places that use it say it has a huge impact on keeping the streets clear,” said Mark Thiel, the city’s assistant director of public works. “They say it has a pretty immediate impact.”
The brine won’t be spread on residential streets, but it will be used on most every major arterial in the city — including Iowa, Wakarusa, Kasold, Massachusetts, North Second, Sixth, 23rd and 31st streets. As the city gets more comfortable with the program, plans call for it to be expanded citywide in future years.
Thiel said the new program is expected to be a more effective way of pre-treating streets compared with spreading dry salt and sand on the road. He said about 40 percent of the dry material gets blown away or pushed to the side of the roads by traffic. City crews will continue to spread traditional salt and sand on the roads during storms.
But even that practice will have a new twist to it. About 25 percent of the city’s salt and sand trucks will be equipped with a device that allows the salt and sand to be wetted before it comes out of the spreader. The wet material will stick to the roads better and the water will cause the salt to immediately start working.
The city plans to implement several other changes to its winter weather practices as well. They include:
• A new website that will allow users to see nearly real-time video from six cameras on major roads in the city. The cameras will give people an opportunity to see with their own eyes the condition of city streets, Thiel said. The cameras will provide views at various locations along Sixth Street, Massachusetts, Vermont, 19th, Iowa, and 23rd streets. Thiel said the number of cameras will expand as the city upgrades its Intelligent Transportation System, which uses cameras to allow traffic engineers to monitor roadways to combat congestion.
• A new mapping system on the website that will allow users to see in real-time where snow plows are. The map also will show which residential areas already have been plowed.
“We hope this will be a benefit in reducing some anxiety of residents,” Thiel said. “They’ll be able to look at the map and see that we are on the way.”
Users can access the map and cameras during winter storms at the city’s website, lawrenceks.org/snow.
• Letters recently were sent to several dozen blocks across the city asking residents to refrain from parking on the street during snowstorms. Thiel said the letters are just a request. In other words, the city won’t be issuing any fines for people who continue to park on the streets. Thiel said the locations — which are scattered throughout the city — were selected based on feedback from snowplow operators.
• Snow-shoveling duties on a handful of private sidewalks will be taken over by city crews. Thiel said sidewalks near major intersections such as Sixth and Iowa, 23rd and Iowa, Ninth and Emery, Sixth and Michigan and few others will be cleared by Parks and Recreation crews because of the large amounts of snow that plows deposit on the sidewalks.
“We’re going to do this on a very limited basis,” Thiel said. “They are mainly locations on arterials where our snowplows are creating a situation that is impossible for the property owners.”
One aspect of the city’s snow-plowing operations that won’t change is how the city plows the snow. City Commissioner Mike Amyx said he had received several questions from residents about why the snow couldn’t be pushed to the middle of the streets instead of the curbs, where the piled snow blocks driveways.
But Tom Orzulak, street division manager, said pushing the snow to the middle of the streets wouldn’t be feasible, unless the city spent the money to then scoop it up and haul it off. He said city streets have a crown that causes them to drain from the middle out. If the snow is piled up in the middle of the street, the melted snow will spread across the street and likely re-freeze overnight.
Last year the city spent about $625,000 to deal with 11 snow or ice events that resulted in 33.8 inches of snow.