Portland is still known — and sometimes mocked — for refusing to use road salt during winter weather, but in recent years, the city has changed its approach.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Wednesday’s record-breaking snowstorm took Portland by surprise and quickly led to the kind of traffic mess that often tends to crop up when the city gets hit by heavy snow.
The gridlock has sparked a flood of familiar complaints on social media, including accusing Portland of not using road salt.
Some claims about Portland’s winter weather struggles are unfair (yes we do have snow plows, and as Willamette Week points out, no one drives well on ice), but the road salt accusation sticks out because there was a time when it was true — neither the Oregon Department of Transportation nor the Portland Bureau of Transportation used salt.
Does Portland use road salt when it’s snowy and icy out?
Yes, Portland uses road salt. ODOT uses it on freeways and PBOT uses it on Portland’s major plowing routes. In fact, PBOT used 45 tons of it Thursday.
There was indeed a time not that long ago when PBOT and ODOT both avoided putting down road salt, mainly for environmental reasons. Salt can damage roads and bridges or build up in streams and rivers, and it’s not great for cars either.
Oregon’s relatively mild winters made it easier to get by without salt, but ODOT began testing salt in 2012 in response to more frequent snow and ice events.
PBOT eventually followed suit, and a big catalyst for the change was the exceptionally strong winter season in December 2016 and January 2017, when icy gridlock kept the roads clogged for days and public frustration with the saltless city reached a fever pitch.
Not long after, then-Commissioner Dan Saltzman announced that he was revamping PBOT’s winter storm strategy to add more plow routes and expand the use of road salt for future weather events.
Today, salt is a regular tool in Oregon’s winter weather toolbox. When a major ice storm was closing in on Portland two months ago, PBOT and ODOT both told KGW that they would have salt ready to deploy along specific routes, along with magnesium chloride deicer and sand.
In a news release Friday, PBOT said it had responded to the current winter storm by applying 45 tons of salt, plus 8,000 gallons of deicer, along the city’s priority snow routes.