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Road Salt Management

Keeping Ontario's Roads Safe in Winter

Maintaining safe, clean and liveable communities is a priority for the government. We will continue to work to ensure Ontario's roads are safe for drivers in the winter and throughout the year.

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) follows best practices consistent with those used across North America and employs the latest winter maintenance technologies:

  • All salt spreading trucks are equipped with Electronic Spreader Controls (ESC). These instruments allow the operator to control the amount and location of salt placed, resulting in efficient salt usage.
  • The ministry continues to expand the use of 'pre-wetted' salt. This practice involves adding a small amount of liquid de-icier to road salt as it is placed on the road. Pre-wetted salt stays on the road better and works faster than dry salt. Pre-wet equipment was installed on 140 salt and sand spreaders this past winter.
  • Infrared thermometers are installed in over 200 winter maintenance vehicles to provide fast, accurate road and air temperature readings. This information assists in planning where and when salt application will be most effective.
  • MTO recently completed trials using high-speed spreaders. These spreaders place salt on the road in a controlled manner resulting in less scatter, bounce and waste.
  • Trials are underway using rubber snow plow blades. These blades are more flexible and clean the snow from the road surface better than traditional metal blades, resulting in less need for salt.
  • The ministry is expanding the use of snow hedge innovations that prevent snow from drifting onto highways, resulting in less need for salt.
  • Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) systems, using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, allow maintenance managers to monitor salt usage to ensure application rates conform to ministry standards. These systems are installed on approximately 240 vehicles.
  • MTO uses Advanced Road Weather Information Systems (ARWIS) to monitor and forecast road and weather conditions to schedule winter maintenance operations and eliminate unnecessary salt applications. MTO owns 82 ARWIS stations and has access to information from an additional 18 sites, for a total of 100 ARWIS stations, more than any other Canadian province. MTO is currently installing 30 new stations across Ontario.
  • Two automatic bridge de-icing systems have been installed: one at Highway 401 and 416, one on Highway 17 in Ottawa, with three under construction. These systems automatically spray liquid de-icing chemicals on the bridge surface when ice or snow is anticipated. Also, the ministry has initiated trials to evaluate mobile liquid anti-icing techniques to prevent black ice from forming and snow from packing to the road surface.
  • MTO's Maintenance Technology Project is piloting a variety of new winter maintenance technologies designed to ensure efficiency and enhanced environmental protection.

MTO is an active member of AURORA, an international partnership of public agencies that work together to perform joint research activities in ARWIS. Also, MTO attends and presents research papers at international conferences on a broad range of highway maintenance topics, including winter maintenance technologies that can reduce salt usage.

The ministry's actual salt usage is highly dependent upon weather conditions, varying from 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of salt annually. Combining safe road salt use with new and existing MTO technologies is estimated to reduce road salt use by up to 20 per cent.

MTO is also a member of a national Road Salt Management working group assigned by the Council of Deputy Ministers responsible for transportation and highway safety. Consisting of both Canadian road maintenance agencies and Environment Canada, this group ensures state-of-the-art salt management practices are identified. MTO will continue to explore new and emerging technologies to further enhance road salt management practices.

See also: Maintenance Technology Project

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