The City of Madison’s Streets Division will reduce the number of city roads salted this winter, city officials announced on Nov. 21.
The Streets Division will remove 6% of salt routes around the city in an effort to reduce harm to the environment, according to Bryan Johnson, the city’s recycling and public education coordinator.
More than 50 miles of streets will be left without salt this upcoming winter, Johnson said. One of the many factors the street division considered was whether the route is used by the Madison Metro buses.
“When Metro redesigned their routes, it removed buses from many roads,” Johnson said. “This gave us an opportunity to really give our salt route network a hard look to remove areas that no longer need an application of salt.”
The salt route includes bus routes as well as main roads around schools, emergency facilities and other large commuter routes.
Salt is commonly used to remove the final layer of snow and ice from roads to increase driver safety. Road salt works by decreasing the freezing point of water, which causes ice to melt even if it’s below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Salt Smart Collaborative.
However, excess salting of roads and sidewalks can negatively impact the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Road salt eventually enters the city’s storm drains and can make its way into the local lakes. This has an impact on the quality of water in nearby lakes, along with water local residents consume.
Water with high levels of sodium affects those with high blood pressure and is toxic to many aquatic ecosystems, according to the EPA.
The Madison Streets Division isn’t the only large contributor to the mass amount of salt entering local waterways. Many residences and businesses put salt down on sidewalks, parking lots and other areas in the city.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus spreads over 938 acres and contributes to a large usage of salt on roads and sidewalks.
By decreasing the amount of roads being salted, the Madison Streets Division will help prevent around 270 tons of salt from entering local waterways.
“We are trying to do our part making common sense reductions that do not compromise safety, and it is ultimately a win for our lakes and the water we drink,” Johnson said.
Although some roads are being removed from the salt route, 48% of the traffic lanes in Madison are still on the route. Salt removal will be more apparent in less busy commuting routes and local neighborhoods, Johnson said.
Neighborhoods will continue to be plowed if there are three or more inches of snow at the end of a storm. The Streets Division will also continue to put sand down in slippery areas.
The city is listening to feedback from residents about the modifications. Currently, no one has reached out, but this could change as winter approaches, Johnson said.
“I hope people are aware of the changes, and they’ll understand why they were made and the good it will do — even if it does mean driving a little bit slower on a snowy street near their home,” Johnson said.