Salt Shortage Impacts Local Highway Departments

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By Matthew Searcy

WSIL -- Winter is still several months away, but the preparation starts now. Local highway departments typically purchase their road salt during the summer. This year, they're running into some roadblocks. 

"I think we will be okay, it's just going to cost us more money," said Williamson County commissioner Brent Gentry.    
 
A high frequency of winter storm events from last season has depleted the salt supply. That's impacting the availability for nine different Southern Illinois counties, including Williamson County.  
 
"I know for a fact that people in Springfield and in Chicago are in the same boat that we are in," explained Gentry. "It's just a matter of a shortage, and I think that is the issue."
     
Williamson county has purchased their salt from the state for years, but that could change. Salt requests from local highway departments are not receiving bids from salt suppliers, which means the state is unable to fulfill the orders.  
 
"I think the demand is more than the supply," said Gentry.  
 
"We have just enough salt in hand from last year to handle two minor storms," explained county chairman Ron Ellis. "If we didn't have the capabilities of treating the roads we would come to a complete standstill." 
 
Salt orders initially denied to Illinois counties are expected to be rebid by the state. However, even if the suppliers decide to answer, the price could rise dramatically. 
 
"The county engineer can structure it to where he could pay for it out of different funds," said Gentry. "Does it put a bind on the overall picture of the county highway department? Of course it does." 
 
Last year, county highway departments spent $57 a ton on salt. That figure is expected to double this year. 
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