Thanks to salt, state and local transportation officials say they largely managed to keep Triangle roads and streets from becoming sheets of ice Friday.
Before the storm hit, crews spent days coating roads with gallons upon gallons of salt brine. But brine was no longer an option once the sleet began to fall early Friday morning.
Liquids aren’t the best remedy when ice is already on the road; Raleigh public works officials said brine sometimes even freezes when the temperature is low.
Crews generally stuck to a three-step process for clearing roads: Apply salt. Give it time to soak into the slush and ice. Come back later with a plow and scrape it off.
That’s why some trucks were spotted on slush-covered roads with their plow blades up – plowing too quickly pushes away the salt.
“Salt remains the main weapon the department has to deal with the roads, and more than 1,400 tons of salt have been used so far (in Wake County), as well as 200 tons of a salt/sand mix,” said Steve Abbott, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Statewide, DOT crews planned to use 12,000 tons of salt. Municipal crews were well stocked for the storm, too. Cary had 900 tons of pure salt and 2,500 tons of salt/sand mix on hand.
“Our spreaders act like crème brulee torches, melting whatever glaze is covering the streets,” said Scott Hecht, Cary’s public works director.
Hecht said the salt brine his crews put on dry roads Wednesday and Thursday helped buy time Friday morning – sleet and snow melted quickly in the first hours of the storm.
And for much of Friday, occasional rounds of salt turned most of the ice to slush, even with temperatures below freezing.
“It’s plowing off streets very well, and we will be doing that all night long,” Hecht said, adding that Cary roads were “slick but not a sheet of ice ... It’s not unmanageable.”
Not every road got the full salt and plow treatment Friday. State and municipal road crews all have priority systems.
For the state, that means clearing interstates first and then moving to primary roads, with secondary roads last on the list. Raleigh prioritizes bridges – always the first to freeze – and what it considers “major thoroughfares,” followed by streets that serve as city bus routes.
With ice building up late Friday and bringing down trees and power lines, road crews could be relying on a different tool Saturday: The trusty chainsaw.