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Road crews work to limit salt usage to protect environment

Organizations like the Maine Turnpike Authority and Maine Department of Transportation are utilizing tech and other tools to track road salt usage.

MAINE, USA — It's been a busy week for public works and road crews in Maine, after the state saw three winter storms in six days. 

As crews from agencies like the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Turnpike Authority work to treat roadways, they're very cognizant of just how they're being treated.

"There's a huge balance. You try to put out the minimum amount of salt to achieve your goals," MTA Director of Maintenance John Cannell said.

A big reason road crews are looking to only use the amount of salt needed, is because of the impact excessive salt has on the environment.

"It can run off into nearby surface waters, and when that happens, that excessive salt can accumulate in the water and it can be really harmful to the critters that live there," Fred Dillon, Stormwater Coordinator with the City of South Portland said. 

Dillon said he works closely with public works crews to help monitor salt usage and its impact on the environment. He said technology helps track just how much salt is being used in South Portland. Similar tech is being used by the MTA and MaineDOT to track salt usage.

"We scale every bit of salt that goes on our trucks. And then at the end of the storm, we check that versus what the trucks should have put out. The trucks all have computerized spreaders inside the truck," Cannell said. "So if the truck speeds up, it puts out more salt. If the truck slows down, it puts out less salt. But the trucks also measure how much salt they put out. So we measure the salt, we check it versus what we thought we were gonna put out, and make sure those are operating correctly."

MaineDOT similarly tracks its salt usage. Brian Burne, highway matinee engineer with MaineDOT said they're also using new technology to track road temperatures to know just how much salt is needed. 

"To know the surface temperature, not just the air temperature, so looking at where the salt is going to be working on the road, and based on that temperature we can take a look at what our application rates are going to be," Burne said. 

In an effort to keep salt on the roadways too, MaineDOT and MTA, when weather permits, will treat roadways with a salt brine mixture, which they said helps the salt cling to the roads.

"You don't want it bouncing off the roadway because then it's not where you want it, then you're just wasting it and it's going into the environment," Cannell said.

According to MTA and MaineDOT leaders, there's still a healthy supply of salt across the state following the recent winter storms.

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