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Cash-Strapped Road Agencies Take Another Hit As Salt Prices Soar Ahead Of Winter

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ANN ARBOR (WWJ/AP) - With temperatures in the 80s, winter weather and road salt are the furthest topics from some people’s minds. But for state and local road agencies, it’s all they can think about.

The County Road Association of Michigan said state and local agencies are bracing for a massive increase in salt prices expected this year – yet another hit for cash-strapped road maintenance budgets.

Denise Donohue, director of the County Road Association, said it’s all a matter of supply and demand, especially after salt reserves were pounded during the “Polar Vortex” and beyond.

“The harsh winter last year caused many road agencies, and other public entities that cooperatively purchase salt from them – such as school districts and other governmental agencies – to deplete their salt reserves,” Donohue said in a statement. “As the demand for early salt delivery increased this year, so did the price.”

And the sticker shock is already very apparent. Washtenaw County is reporting an increase of at least $500,000 for salt prices alone next winter, according to Jim Harmon, director of operations for the county’s road commission.

“We are attempting to do more with less and the budget hits just keep on coming,” Harmon said in a statement. “We’re dealing with the same revenues we had a decade ago and the cost of materials keeps increasing, making it harder to deliver the level of service the public expects.”

The price of salt has risen steadily over the past decade while revenues have been on a downward slide. On average, the statewide average is $65.71 per ton for the 2014-15 winter season, up nearly 50 percent from last year.

Jerry Byrne, operations director for the Kent County Road Commission, said they’re expecting to pay $66 a ton for rock salt, more than double the price from a decade ago.

“Although we’ve taken steps to increase efficiency and stretch our salt use, increased costs eat up a bigger part of our budget each year. The use of salt plays an important role in public safety,” Byrne said in a statement.

On the brink of what is anticipated to be an early and harsh winter, road agencies are looking for every possible way to stretch maintenance dollars and ensure the roads are safe for travel this winter.

“Michigan’s state and local road agencies have a legal responsibility to keep roads reasonably safe for travel,” Donohue said. “Although the innovations and best practices for salt use that our members have adopted … have helped to reduce the amount of salt needed, the increase in price per ton has not allowed road agencies to realize savings.”

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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