County looks to other means to combat icy roads

Amelia Holliday Staff Reporter aholliday@civitasmedia.com

February 4, 2014

HAZARD—Arctic vortexes and subzero temperatures have left many roads in Perry County covered in a thick, unyielding layer of ice that salt cannot affect in temperatures so far below freezing.

Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble said the county’s salt supply has already run out only a month into 2014, and he has had to ask the state for more.

“We normally put out about 50 tons of salt a year,” Noble said. “This first bad spell, a couple of weeks ago, we used 150 tons in two days.”

In the last month alone, Noble said the county has easily used over 250 tons of salt on unrelenting icy roads. And at around $72 a ton, that’s not so easily overlooked when budgets are being cut across the board.

“You put a ton of salt out and you’ve destroyed a ton of blacktop. Salt eats blacktop up. And then if you put calcium in it, which we had to do through this cold weather, it’s even worse,” Noble said, adding that a ton of blacktop and a ton of salt cost about the same amount at this point.

Noble explained that the salt seeps into cracks in the blacktop, eventually eating away at it enough so that the continued impact of tires on pavement will break the blacktop up creating potholes.

A cheaper option may be in the near future for Perry County, though, to make icy roads safer, Noble said.

“What I’ve been doing, I’ve been experimenting up on my farm, and I’ve been taking pea gravel, the little, small gravel, and I take a backhoe and scatter it on them north sides where it’s solid ice, and that works real well,” he said.

The pea gravel, he explained, gives a vehicle more traction on icy roads while simultaneously helping to break through the ice. Since the gravel does not use any chemicals and does not hurt the blacktop—and only costs around $13 per ton—the county could save thousands of dollars by using the gravel instead of the salt on roads on the north end of the county that rarely see sunlight.

Noble said he only needs to work out the logistics of using the gravel instead of the salt, since he has found that a regular salt truck cannot disperse the gravel the same way it does salt.

“We went to Letcher County, which that’s the only other county using this, to see how they was going it and they was actually using those (trucks) but just maybe putting half a ton at a time in them. I think we’re overloading them,” he said.

Noble said the only real downside to using the gravel is the dust that is kicked up after the roads dry up; however, he said, salt creates just as much dust, which, over time, is detrimental to a person’s car.

“I mean, we go out here and we spend all this money on blacktop to get the roads ready and then we destroy them with salt,” Noble said. “We have to make different arrangements where the weather’s changing, and I’ve got to look at different options.”

Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.