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Posted on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor braces for wintery roads: City orders new snow removal equipment and tons of street salt

By Ryan J. Stanton

Watch out, winter. Ann Arbor is ready for you.

The city of Ann Arbor is stockpiling literally tons of salt to combat snow and ice accumulations on city streets this winter, and city workers are getting some new equipment to do the job, too.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted back in June to purchase 11 new dump trucks and four front-mounting snowplows from Dearborn-based Wolverine Truck Sales for $1.55 million.


File photo

Nine of those trucks — equipped with salt spreaders and underbody scrapers — will be used by the city's street maintenance unit.

The four plows being purchased will mount to the front of any of those trucks and will be put into service during heavy snowfalls.

Kirk Pennington, the city's field operations supervisor, said he's looking forward to delivery of the first truck in early December. He expects one additional truck delivered every week and a half.

"There'll be less downtime due to breakdowns and the trucks will be safer because they're not rusted away," he said.

With winter on its way, Ann Arbor officials already have spent $67,099 for an early supply of 1,700 tons of ice-control salt from the Detroit Salt Co. at a rate of $39.47 per ton.

Pennington said that completely filled the barn at the city's maintenance yard on Stone School Road. Crews already were putting some of that salt to use on city streets Sunday morning.

Depending on how much more is needed, the city is prepared to spend another $203,895 this winter for 4,500 tons of backup salt from the Detroit Salt Co. at a rate of $45.31 per ton.

The amount of salt the city uses fluctuates year to year. Last winter, city crews applied more than 3,500 tons, which was about half the 7,011 tons used in 2010-11.

Each year, the state of Michigan solicits a statewide bid for bulk ice-control salt, allowing communities like Ann Arbor that participate to receive advantageous pricing. The Detroit Salt Co. was the low bidder this year for both the early fill and seasonal backup supplies.

Pennington said the contract locks the city into buying the entire early fill quantity, but it allows the city to purchase anywhere from 70 percent to 130 percent of the seasonal backup quantity. That means the city could get up to an additional 5,850 tons this winter at the low rate of $45.31 per ton.

If the city needs any additional salt beyond that, it will pay the market rate, Pennington said, noting the market rate reached $140 per ton in January 2009.

The new trucks will replace vehicles that date between 1999 and 2003. City officials said the aging trucks have averaged $14,000 in repair costs each over the past five years.

The four front plows will replace equipment purchased in 1979, 1980 and 1981. Thomas Gibbons, financial analyst for the fleet and facility unit, said the old plows have a fixed angle and the new plows have hydraulic cylinders allowing drivers to change the angle from inside the truck.

Gibbons said the majority of the old dump truck bodies rusted out to a point that necessitated total replacement. He said the old trucks have been averaging more than 15 breakdowns per year each, for a total of 600-plus hours of downtime.

With stainless-steel bodies, all aluminum cabs and 20,000-pound front axles, Gibbons said, the new trucks should last 50 percent longer than the vehicles they're replacing.

In addition, they'll be equipped with diesel engines that meet current emissions standards. That's estimated to increase fuel-efficiency by 5 percent, saving 12,000 gallons of diesel fuel and abating 121 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the vehicles.

Pennington said he's not making predictions about the upcoming winter. Guessing how bad the roads might get or how much salt might be required, he said, is "more of a matter of luck than skill."

The city launched a new online tracking tool last year that allows members of the public to follow the city's snow removal efforts essentially in real-time.

Craig Hupy, the city's public services administrator, said the online tracking tool will be offered again this season after a successful test run last winter.

"From our standpoint, it worked out very well," he said. "The first snowstorm we had when the tool was up and running, we had so many hits on the website that it crashed. We had to go back and beef up the site to make it more robust, and that told us there's more interest than we thought."

Hupy said the site is working as planned. Users are able to track the locations of the city's trucks (with about a 15-minute delay) and tell when their blades are down and when they're salting.

The city has different guidelines for snow removal depending on how much snow or ice has accumulated. When there is light snow — meaning less than four inches — or ice conditions, about 98 miles of major streets are cleared with chemical de-icing agents.

When heavier snowfall of four inches or more occurs, street plowing begins with the city using all salt and plow trucks and available staff.

At that point, all snow removal equipment is staffed on a 24-hour schedule — in 12-hour shifts — until all city-maintained streets are cleared. According to city officials, the goal is to clear all major and residential streets within 24 hours of an average four-inch snowstorm.

The city has 197 miles of local residential streets, which are a second priority to major arterial streets during snowstorms.

Pennington said the city uses calibrated spreader controls that regulate the amount of salt being spread. By doing that, he said, the city is able to minimize salt usage and comply with the city policy of using the least amount of salt consistent with traffic safety.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

The most salted water freezes at -5 degrees Fahrenheit anyways. The City does add calcium chloride and magnesium chloride to the salt when the weather gets colder, but at best those still freeze at -15 and -17 degrees. Salt just melts the snow and makes it slicker until it freezes, and makes black ice more of an issue. So why not sand and gravel like in the UP, Maine, and other places that see heavy snowfall? The untold part is that City doesn't like to use sand or gravel because of the drainage into the storm water sewage system. (Yes, I have asked.) If they would update the storm water infrastructure to have traps that could handle the load and be cleaned each spring, it wouldn't be an issue. Instead we salt load the surrounding environment killing natural flora in wetlands and watersheds, and dumping salt into the Huron River. (Snarky comment: But this would mean responsible spending on storm water sewage. Oh no! Where is the money from our storm water fees going?) Secondly, the City claims salt removes ice and makes snow more workable, but I would argue that more ice build up is created by using salt and makes the snow harder by saturating it with water, not to mention refrozen water. After doing considerable winter driving in the UP, I can say it is much safer to drive on a road covered with gravel and sand and packed snow than a salted road with icy patches in the middle of winter but oddly some people feel they need to see the road in order for it to be safe. (Most yoopers would laugh if you told them roads need to be completely cleared of snow during the winter. Even the highways remain snow packed.) Sand and gravel also save Road Commissions and municipalities money on snow plowing as there is less snow clearing to necessary to achieve drivable roads. If the City wants to get green and have safer roads, it should reconsider it's salt mixture and switch to more sand and gravel.

Kellie Woodhouse

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

Hmm. I need to stop procrastinating and get new tires for my Matrix. Thanks for the reminder, Ryan.

Kyle Mattson

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

Same here, I've been procrastinating changing out my summer-only tires guess, I know what I'll be doing this week...don't want to get stuck in the parking lot again after just a dusting of snow like last year.

harry b

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

Global warming?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

No matter how much salt and equipment the City or the County may get, some people will NEVER be happy unless they complain. The accidents on the road are not typically due to lack of salt or proper equipment. Its due to the fact that people can't drive. They are in tooo much of a hurry to get some where and dont plan ahead. Then they drive crazy when the road conditions do not allow it and crash.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

I agree 100%. It's just that people don't want to hear that, they'd rather blame the city or county but still complain at the same time about too much government.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:41 p.m.

What type of trucks are they buying?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 8:37 p.m.

Big ones.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Riddle me this Batman. Why use metal for the dump on the truck that is going to be filled with salt? Of course they will rust out fast. Isn't there some kind of polymere or other material that could be used on the dump during the winter months?

Kyle Mattson

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 10:24 p.m.

Interesting question treetown- I'm going to guess that its safe to assume that metal is the only material that can hold up to the abuse these trucks go through as well as carry that heavy of a load. Also, I'd bet that any corrosion is not limited to just the truck's box but the frame, body, suspension, etc as well.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

"By doing that, he said, the city is able to minimize salt usage and comply with the city policy of using the least amount of salt consistent with traffic safety." Ha! think again folks. The city NEVER uses enough salt during the storms and refuses to plow until 4 or more inches of snow falls. That's on the city website. This is a dangerous and ludicrous policy, which has resulted in unnecessary accidents and injuries during the winter. The city can buy all the new equipment it wants, but if it doesn't use it properly, nothing will change this winter, or any winter. There are also more technologically advanced road materials being used in plenty of other snowy cities that are better for the environment than salt and that work in lower temperatures.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

So we get a dusting of snow over the weekend and now they are saying we are going to get massive amounts this winter? I'd like to know whose crystal ball they are looking at.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Regarding the use of sand, here's some information from the city's snow removal webpage ( …. Re: Light Snow "When the major streets are cleared of snow and ice, street maintenance crews move into residential areas with additional traction agents, such as sand, to provide better traction trouble spots. It takes up to 200 tons of sand per storm in the residential areas when and where road conditions warrant sanding." Re: Heavy Snow "When the street maintenance crews have completed the major streets, crews and equipment are sent to sand in the residential areas." Re: Sidewalk Snow Removal "During the winter, the city provides residents with up to one, five-gallon bucket's worth of a sand and salt mixture, per visit to the maintenance yard, 721 N. Main, (734) 794-6362. Residents should bring their own shovel and bucket and self-load this material from the marked pile located next to the entrance gate. This material is intended for city residents only, and not for contractors, even if servicing sidewalks. The pure salt stored in the barn is restricted for city operations."


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

Incidentally, shouldn't "wintery" be "wintry"? I know, picky, picky, picky.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

Wintry sounds much colder.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

My dictionary tells me both are acceptable. But if you can make a strong case for using wintry instead of wintery, I'm all ears!


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

Ivor got it right: Nanny State! Of course, paved roads, sidewalks, and a sewer system are also telltale signs of a Nanny State...


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Duh ! We live in a cold climate state so why is this a news story ?? It`s as bad as the Detroit TV channels treating every little accumulation like a major story, with the mandatory report right from the truck loading salt area. It`s to laugh !


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Salt pollutes waterways and corrodes cars. In New England they use sand with just a little salt. It saves money and conferes better traction.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

You don't mess with Badlink Johnny!


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:26 p.m. But don't let facts get in the way of your argument.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

I think city truck drivers are paid if they are working which might explain why we get salt at the first flake. This is true in private lots too. I've driven through clouds of salt dust in the past and think sadly of all the fish choking on all those tons of salt that eventually wash down the sewers. If we have another non-winter does the salt last in the barn til next winter? I guess Detroit has to sell the salt it mines to rust out the cars it sells to keep the economy going.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

This is a step in the right direction. Last year was a nightmare. I live in a residential neighborhood, less than half a mile from an elementary school. I'm not sure if I saw a single salt truck all last winter. In February, I was involved in an accident when another driver slid through a yield sign and t-boned my car, sending me spinning into a neighbor's front yard. This was maybe 200 feet from my driveway, and I was doing about 10 MPH. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but there was a child in the other car. It could have been really bad. There was a silver lining though: I got to enjoy some lovely public art on my way to the traffic court.

Ann English

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:19 a.m.

Slid through a yield sign? It sounds like the other driver was going downhill. It does not need to be a steep hill for a vehicle to slide. Last winter was the fifth mildest winter for us on record. For the winter of 2010-2011, February was the snowiest month, not January. January usually is the snowiest month. I've seen salt in parking lots already, certain that private sources put it there.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

I don't mean any disrespect but the fault here isn't the city (last year's winter was incredibly mild - I would argue it was mild enough to not use ANY salt and possibly twice). It IS the fault of the driver with the child in the car who drove like an idiot for the conditions. Its not the city's job to cover everyone in telfon for the winter...its our job to drive defensively based on the conditions.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

There wasn't any snow last year. The problem is with the idiot drivers that cant drive in winter conditions ( or normal conditions for that matter).

Ivor Ivorsen

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

nanny state.

Ivor Ivorsen

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

Why is salt for our icy streets an unquestioned government responsibility and service?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Seriously? You really believe that plowing streets is a form of big government? Please, elaborate. I'm fascinated to hear more.

Rose Garden

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

What does this mean?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

Plowing snow is "nanny state" now?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:54 p.m.

Tons of street salt! Yeah, we sure love the Earth here in Candyland. How about sand?


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:32 a.m.

Thanks for the bad link johnnya2. What does Seattle have to do with Michigan?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:24 p.m. But don't let science get in the way of your argument.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

Where do you think the salt comes from?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:53 p.m.

If only...if only...if only they were used. I have lived in Ann Arbor/Washtenaw area for over 25 years this city and county both have issues with clearing the roads. I travel in all direction during the winter. I can always tell when I cross the county line into and out of Washtenaw. Seems there is a problem with either road crews or management. It doesn't help that for some reason drivers forget how to drive carefully in the winter. Slow down, expect ice, give cars around you space and allow extra time to get wherever your going. This will make winter safer for everyone.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

Wayne county almost always has wet to dry roads in all kinds of wintry weather. Why can't Washtenaw County do that?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:03 p.m.

The city and county are a bunch of amateurs when it comes to road maintenance in the winter. I've lived here all my life and have never seen such poor road maintenance in a snowy part of the country as I have in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw county.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

I agree, I've live in Ann Arbor well over 50 years.But the county does a much better job than the city of Ann Arbor. Just drive along Washtenaw from Ypsilanti after a good snowfall. The main roads are plowed clean until you get pass US 23 into Ann Arbor. The county maintains that portion through Ypsilanti.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

It does seem as if the trucks were ordered very late, to have delivery during the winter. Hmmm.......


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:40 p.m.

So here is my question - why do this? its mother nature. I get clearing the roads periodically but this hyper "OMG there is a flake cover it with salt " approach is ultimately bad for the environment, bad for the roads and vehicles and very expensive. How 'bout you shoot for a middle ground and only salt in certain places instead of all this fear about something that happens every winter and we should be able to nandle without the hand-holding.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Well i suppose we could just ignore it all completely. Let's also not put air conditioning in our homes in the summer since it is only a little hot weather. There is also a SAFETY element involved. The concept of only salting certain places seems like a recipe for the wealthier sections of town getting take care of while the poor are required to "rough it"


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3 p.m.

pseudo, have you ever slipped and fallen on an icy sidewalk? the last time I did was at Liberty Plaza, which doesn't get maintained as well as it could be, and spent 8 weeks in a cast. lovely experience.....


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:26 p.m.

Salt is needed because the typical whining Ann Arborite can't maneuver on snow.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

"...Gibbons said the majority of the old dump truck bodies rusted out to a point that necessitated total replacement." well MAYBE if the city started to use SAND they wouldnt rust out so soon... Go to the UP, out west etc, Id rather have TRACTION when it gets really cold, when salt does nothing...


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

@jA2 Do you think Seattle has a different ecosystem than we have here? Putting salt into salt water is the lesser of the evils IN SEATTLE. Here we're putting salt in FRESH water.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

Wouldn't rust out "so soon"? They're 30 years old.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

There are many problems with sand, not the least of which is it does not melt anything. So let's say the city puts down the sand with 1 inch of snow on the ground, then another inch hits the road surface. The sand is buried under the snow rendering it useless. Sand on roads has been shown to be worse for the environment than salt is.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

What is the ultimate goal? Safe driving, right? Why is it unsafe due to snow? lack of traction. What does salt do? melts the snow to allow contact with the high traction/friction surface i.e. the road. What happens when the air temp is below the freezing point of the salf/water slurry? nothing, salt then does nothing... What does sand do? provides traction/friction. When does sand stop working due to air temps? it doesnt... Salt will also increase the number of freeze/thaw cycles on a roadway thus increasing road damage, when sand would just leave the road cold and frozen. Salt also rusts cars, damages waterways, trees close to the road etc. Sand will get flushed down the drains, just like all the other road grime/dirt/gravel. as a side note, GET SNOW TIRES EVERYONE!! I get so frustrated when a driver cant make it up a small grade due to their prius having crappy/near bald tires and then the driver places fault on the city/salt trucks/plows...


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Sand won't kill trees planted near the street.

Rose Garden

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

I knew someone would criticize the project when I began to read the article.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Wow Bcar, you seem to have struck a nerve. Sand was used here in Candyland when I was a kid, and should be used now. Clogs? Unclog em!


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

You make a valid point Bcar but then the city would have to put up with all the whiners who want the snow gone before it even hits the ground so they can still go 10 mph over the speed limit.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

Sand would clog up the sewers.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 11:48 a.m.

"...looking forward to delivery of the first truck in early December. He expects one additional truck delivered every week and a half." Let's see now... A teeny weeny bit of snow in December - between 5th Ave and Division. A lttle bit more in January covering downtown. And a little more in February out to Burns Park. And a little more in March including the West side. And out like a lamb in April for everyone else.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

Got my meteorology skills from the home coursepack "How to Mitigate Natural Disaster Through Gerrymandering" and "Planning for the Worse - How Leaders Can Survive 12/21/12 And Beyond". (City employees can get a discount copy for the low holiday price of only $399 plus shipping). And my favorite deleted ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" was from the group Poison and hit the top of the charts spot in 1988.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

I remember a few years ago that the ones who mind the trucks in Ypsi and the ones who mind the trucks in Ann Arbor were out to clean the streets faster then the other. Seems to me if I remember correctly, Ypsi seems to get the roads clearer then Ann Arbor. What is up with that I wonder. So, I guess time will tell who can keep their roads cleaner. Ypsi? Ann Arbor?


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

Outstanding! Where did you study meteorology?

Rose Garden

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Don't be so sarcastic. The article says that 197 miles of roads will be plowed within 24 hours.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

This is the kind of public art that the city needs.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

Thank you, A2Mike for an intelligent comment. The city always has an excuse for not plowing or salting adequately, including using money for road maintenance for ugly, overpriced so-called public art, that the public did not choose. Nor did the public approve the funds to be scimmed from other areas of the budget for this terrible sculpture. More plowing and less "art."


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

@ Rose: The comment is relevant. Public money was spent on art projects of questionable merit while roads went unplowed. The city has been skimping on basic services for years now, which why things like public art and the new library have become so controversial. Nothing happens in a vacuum.


Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

Actually if you took that thing outside City Hall and strapped it to the front of a truck it might make a pretty good plow. With blue blinky-lights no less. Remember that we do it up different here.

Rose Garden

Tue, Nov 27, 2012 : 1:39 p.m.

I knew someone would tie this project to the public art projects when I began to read the article.