Monday 23 October 2017

NRA stocks up on salt to avoid repeat of big freeze disruption

Paul Melia

Paul Melia

ROAD bosses will have three years' supply of salt in stock by November to tackle the worst of the winter weather and avoid the problems of recent years.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) last night said that main roads and many local routes would remain open, even if we have a repeat of the big freezes of the past two winters, which brought large parts of the country shuddering to a halt.

And for the first time, local authorities will have a dedicated supply of rock salt to de-ice roads serving smaller towns and villages.

Some 40,000 tonnes will be used for local and regional roads after widespread criticism last year when all available salt supplies were used to keep the country's busiest routes open.

Another 150,000 tonnes will be available for the national routes.

"The objective would be to keep all national roads open," a NRA spokesman said. "Key local and regional roads to get people access to the national network are also paramount, but we cannot have every road and boreen in the country salted -- we'd have to call the IMF directly for that.

"Ireland has 100,000kms of roads in the country, one of the highest in the EU."

But he is confident that there is enough salt to do the job. We are well stocked. These salts have anti-caking agent added to them and that means if this winter is not as severe as previous years, we can carry it over for the following year."

There are two techniques to treat roads - anti-icing and de-icing.

Anti-icing is a precautionary measure where rock salt is spread before the freeze. It forms a bond-breaker that stops snow sticking, and turns into a solution which helps melt ice.

De-icing takes up to three times more resources, as it involves removing compacted snow and ice, and requires special equipment such as snow ploughs.

Rock salt is sourced from mines in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, Britain and Europe. Grit is also used, but is far less effective because it doesn't melt the ice, gets compacted, and can damage cars if little rocks spray up into the air.

Until the big freeze two years ago, about 65,000 tonnes of salt were generally used to treat the 100,000kms of roadway here.

Last year, 110,000 tonnes were used and while the main routes remained open, people living in rural areas were forced to leave their cars at home because there wasn't enough salt to treat less-trafficked roads.

This year, some 190,000 tonnes will be available.

Some 80,000 tonnes is in storage from last winter, and another 110,000 tonnes will be delivered by November.

The salt costs about €30 per tonne -- meaning local authorities and the NRA could spend as much as €5.7m this year keeping the roads open.

The NRA orders salt on behalf of all local authorities to help secure the lowest price, but city and county councils can purchase additional supplies if necessary.

"We have ample salt supply for the national roads network," the spokesman added. "We all need to prepare for the tough winter, but let's hope a more normal one is in store for us all.

"Major storage facilities are set-up at the key ports around the country and the local authorities are resupplying their individual storage sites at the local level."

Irish Independent

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