ODOT doesn't salt the interstate

When we were traveling north from Medford on Interstate 5 last Saturday morning, we were relieved that the Southern Oregon passes (Sexton, Stage Road, etc.) were pretty clear, especially on the south sides. We wondered if that's because ODOT used a de-icing chemical or salt on the roads or was it just the result of traffic and a bit of sunshine? Whatever the case, I-5 was a lot easier to drive on than on local city streets.

— Rob L., Medford

Rob, we're glad you made it safely to your destination (and, we hope, home). And, yes, those relatively clear passes were at least in part the result of work done by the folks with the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Gary Leaming, ODOT's man with the facts when it comes to Southern Oregon, tells us it was not just one thing that cleared the path on I-5.

Leaming wrote us in an email that ODOT tries "to 'manage' I-5 to bare pavement as much as possible."

"It's the highest priority for ODOT because it is the interstate," he wrote. "We use all the tools we have at our disposal — plows, de-icer, sand — and, in the case of the Siskiyous, judicious use of salt between the California border and Exit 11."

But there was no salt used on I-5 north of the Siskiyous, Rob, because it's not allowed. ODOT is in the second year of a five-year pilot project to test the effectiveness of salt, but that project is limited to the Siskiyou Pass.

For those folks headed north, they were likely driving over pavement that was treated with a de-icer consisting of magnesium chloride, which Leaming describes as basically the same as "distilled water from the Great Salt Lake."

He said the de-icer can be used before a storm to help prevent ice and snow from bonding to the road, and after a storm to help break the bond between ice and road. He noted that use of the de-icer allows ODOT to cut back on the amount of sand it has to lay down.

If the de-icer does its job, it also limits chain restrictions, which makes everyone a bit happier.

"Because of the high volume of traffic and freight that uses the interstate," he wrote, "any time we have to place a chain restriction the whole system gets bogged down, critical freight is delayed, people can't get to appointments and everyone gets generally cranky."

Rob, we know not everyone had a smooth trip along the interstate over the weekend. There were enough accidents and teeth-grinding back-ups to cause some of that crankiness Leaming described. But without some round-the-clock work by road crews, it could have been a lot worse.

Email questions to youasked@mailtribune.com.

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