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Cities run low on road salt, could see increase in potholes

With the first official day of spring still a month away, cities are running low on road salt.

Dixon started to cut its salt use by adding stone chips in an effort to make what it has last, while Sterling and Rock Falls haven’t had to do that yet and are hoping they won’t have to.

With the heavy snowfall for the area this winter, cities have also had to deal with finding places for snow removed from streets and parking lots. Sterling has moved some snow to its riverfront area, near the former factories, Mayor Skip Lee said.

Some snow piles in parking lots have made turning or exiting difficult, he said, by blocking the view of oncoming traffic.

Dixon City Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said that adding stone chips – similar to pebbles – doesn’t help to melt the snow, but does help with traction.

“We’re just about out [of salt] now,” Kuhn said.  

With cities running low on salt, demand for additional salt is high.

Dixon gets its road salt near Ottawa, and Kuhn said he heard there was salt available there, but what it has is on a barge, and there’s an issue with the Illinois River freezing.

Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said whether Rock Falls has to cut its salt use with additives will be determined by the next few winter storms that could hit the area.

“It’s going to be pretty tight,” Wescott said of the city’s salt supply. “But we haven’t cut anything yet.”

And the same goes for Sterling, Lee said, who added that it seems as though the city will be able to purchase more salt and have some in the reserves, if necessary.

The winter hasn’t just worn on the local road salt supplies. The roads have been worn down as well. As snow melts and then freezes, potholes develop in the roads.

The extent of the damage won’t be completely known until the roads are cleared, Kuhn said. So by today, after the warmer weather on Tuesday, cities might have a better idea.

Those potholes can be filled in any temperature, Kuhn said, so some of that work could begin soon.

According to the National Weather Service, Thursday’s forecast includes rain and a chance of snow.

In Sterling, Fourth Street, especially, has shown some wear, Lee said.

The potholes in Rock Falls could be extensive and more than a usual winter, Wescott said.

Adding to the winter issues affecting cities is the frost line, Wescott said, which is more than 36 inches deep – increasing the likelihood of a water main break.

Rock Falls and Sterling have both had more water main breaks than a typical winter, the mayors said.

When the weather warms, Wescott said, the frost line gets pushed down – not pulled up – toward the sewer and water lines. 

“Traditionally, when it starts to warm up is when you have the water main breaks,” he said. “We’ve had the unfortunate deal of getting the breaks from the cold.”

Costs piling up in Dixon

Dixon is 75 percent of the way through its fiscal year, but the street department is at least 80 percent through its 2013-14 fiscal year budget.

The overage is due to the overtime and additional road salt purchases the department has had to make, Finance Director Paula Meyer said Tuesday.

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