Hell is freezing over. The city of Madison is going to salt all of their streets to try to get rid of the ice in advance of Monday night’s snowstorm. The city says it is likely the first time since the 1970s that all of the streets have been salted. (Apparently Mayor Paul Soglin can’t remember the good old days anymore, so no precise date was available.)

“This extraordinary action is necessary due to the persistent layer of ice on many streets and the likelihood of a major winter storm arriving Monday evening,” the city said in a press release Monday apologizing to its residents. “Many roads in Madison remain very slippery and challenging for all roadway users. Plus, on ice packed streets, plowing equipment would be unable to gain sufficient traction push the anticipated heavy snow from the road.”

The city found salting necessary when using the city’s store of sand with a little salt mixed in just wasn’t doing the trick.

“The sand used by the Streets Division is mixed with a small amount of salt, primarily because the sand is stored outdoors and the salt is necessary to keep the sand pile from freezing solid,” the city said in the release. “It was the hope that the salt within the sand would melt the ice, but that did not occur.”

No kidding. If you’re just using the salt to keep the sand from freezing, you’re not mixing in enough salt However, the city will use less salt than they would normally use because, well, it’s Madison.

“Neighborhood salting crews will apply less salt than on a typical salt route,” the city announced. “Crews will be applying 200 pounds of salt per lane mile as opposed to the usual 300 pounds per lane mile. Crews will also only apply salt to the centers of each neighborhood street.”

If the bicyclists can’t get through, the salt trucks will blaze the trail.

Perhaps the city government in Madison is afraid of a takeover by the state legislature. In 2009, then state Sen. Glenn Grothman proposed taking over the snow removal operations after a snowstorm dropped nine inches of snow on the city, snarling the commute and making it extremely difficult for state legislators to get to work.

“Saying Madison officials are endangering citizens’ access to their state government and university, Grothman said Tuesday he’s drafting a bill that would strip the city’s ability to set policies for salting and plowing its main roads and give that authority to the state Department of Transportation,” Jason Stein reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. “Only Madison, which Grothman claims is worse at clearing streets than other state cities, would be affected by the proposal.”

“This is what happens when you have a city with politicians whose base is people who walk to their job at the co-op. They become incapable of handling their responsibilities to the state as a whole,” Grothman told Stein. “I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you know what I mean.”

Unfortunately for commuters in Madison, Grothman was in the minority party at the time as the Democrats controlled everything, including both houses of the legislature. However, Republicans are in control now, although Democratic Governor Tony Evers would presumably stop the takeover of any functions from the Democrats controlling the city government.

Grothman now represents Wisconsin’s sixth congressional district, so Madison’s lack of winter preparedness is no longer an issue for him. He gets to deal instead with Washington D.C.’s panic when they get a couple of inches of snow.

From the city of Madison:

Streets Division will apply salt to all residential streets in Madison on Monday, February 11, 2019. This is likely the first time that all Madison streets have been directly salted since the salt route policy was instituted in the 1970s.

This extraordinary action is necessary due to the persistent layer of ice on many streets and the likelihood of a major winter storm arriving Monday evening. Many roads in Madison remain very slippery and challenging for all roadway users. Plus, on ice packed streets, plowing equipment would be unable to gain sufficient traction push the anticipated heavy snow from the road.

The unprecedented decision to salt each street in Madison was made after it became apparent that sand/salt mixture previously spread on residential streets was not effective in breaking through the ice layer on the roads. The sand used by the Streets Division is mixed with a small amount of salt, primarily because the sand is stored outdoors and the salt is necessary to keep the sand pile from freezing solid. It was the hope that the salt within the sand would melt the ice, but that did not occur.

Neighborhood salting crews will apply less salt than on a typical salt route. Crews will be applying 200 pounds of salt per lane mile as opposed to the usual 300 pounds per lane mile. Crews will also only apply salt to the centers of each neighborhood street.

The neighborhood salt application began Monday morning and will be complete prior to the start of the winter storm Monday night. This should provide sufficient time for the salt application to work before the probable citywide plowing operation begins on Tuesday.
Salting each street in Madison is a singular decision in response to unique weather conditions. The Streets Division will not continue to salt each street in Madison in response more normal winter conditions.

With road conditions as they are, and the major winter storm coming, and considering the safety of all roadway users and plow vehicles, the decision to salt each street was made.