ArDOT District 10 acknowledges salt shortage, untouched highways and funding

Updated: Feb. 13, 2021 at 2:05 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - ArDOT has had trucks out on the roads since Monday and as the week wraps up, another storm system is on its way.

Region 8 News spoke with ArDOT District 10 District Engineer Brad Smithee on several things they’ve had to face this week alone.

“We’ve really been scrambling trying to find any and every way we could to move salt from the river terminals,” Smithee said.

Smithee says with their limited storage capacity, they’ve used almost everything on the first storm.

But when that happens, that’s when their supply contracts come into play. These contracts are through bids each year and companies usually supply the need within 24 hours.

However, those companies have also been hit by the storm and some owners say that can’t make those deliveries safely.

Smithee says they are “blessed and fortunate” that Friday they’ve been able to reach out to local trucking companies that have trucks that are capable of hauling this type of material and they should get that supply soon.

“We started bringing in loads, we expect to work all weekend with those partners, and we fully expect we’ll have our stock replenished by the weekend before Monday’s storm comes. Yes, yes, it’s been a problem, it’s been a big challenge, but it looks like we have a solution for that, that’s going to happen over the weekend,” Smithee said.

Smithee added as soon as they get the salt they will be hauling the liquids all over the district replacing the tanks in each of their stockpiles, especially since in some areas they will be empty soon.

He says they are counting on each of these delivery trucks to bring new loads and get some materials back in place before next week.

Early this week, Region 8 News received several reports of several accidents in Poinsett County, many of which were on I-555.

Several of you questioned what if, anything, has ArDOT done to make the roadways safer and Smithee also acknowledged that.

He’s saying there’s a priority when it comes to treating roads and Poinsett County has a major highway going through it.

Smithee says I-555 is a priority and it will always come first and they have to work to get the interstate as clear as possible before moving on.

But, I-555 had layers of ice on it and he says the community has to realize salt only melts down at about 25 to 26 degrees.

He says since the beginning of the week, they’ve had every piece of equipment on the road and each county has about four to five trucks.

On Thursday night, they were finally able to get some trucks out to highways they haven’t been able to touch like Highway 1, 69, 158 and 14.

“Where we had those bigger heavier ice, salts and things just weren’t melting it that well. No sunshine, the cold temperatures, it’s just difficult to do a lot with it and be very effective and making a big difference. So, we’re working on it,” Smithee said. “We know that it looks like we didn’t do a very good job down there. It’s not for lack of effort is just the set of circumstances, this storm brought to that area.”

So Region 8 News raised the question of funding. If the focus could only be I-555 for Poinsett County and there weren’t enough trucks or manpower to get to other highways, is ArDOT underfunded?

Smithee provided a few numbers for us.

He says for his district alone, they have an $8 million budget for materials, that’s for buying asphalt, concrete products for the roads, mowing, and things of that nature.

He says this week alone, they have spent $300,000 on salt.

Each snowplow blade costs several hundred dollars and the district is using thousands of gallons of fuel this week.

He says the way things are looking they could spend around half a million dollars covering these two weeks of storms.

Smithee says over the years, they have done a better job tackling winter storms because early in his career, they didn’t do much at all.

He says he wouldn’t call it under-funded, we just have to recognize we are “limited in funding.”

“Do you want to take your resources and highly focus on winter weather versus road improvements? Do you want to use that to buy trucks and equipment salt and beet juice and magnesium chloride and these other things that are very expensive for an event that lasted three or four days,” Smithee said. “I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t, make no mistake, but it’s just really a good question for people to realize that.”

Smithee says the question at hand is is it worth “spending more and more and more money” and investing in more equipment and more manpower and more everything versus using our money towards road improvements and bridge repairs and things like that for the rest of the year.

He says an easy way to look at it is a ton of salt costs over hundred dollars compared to a ton of asphalt which costs around $70 to 75 but lasts anywhere from a year to a couple of years.

But, he says to be clear, he is not saying it’s not worth it, but weather storms can take a lot out of a budget.

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