A pile of salt and sand at the Surrey works yard is ready for distribution.With thick sheets of ice remaining on many local roads

A pile of salt and sand at the Surrey works yard is ready for distribution.With thick sheets of ice remaining on many local roads

Surrey shifts gears on its road-salting strategy

Sand added to the mix in anticipation of new snowfall; White Rock says it's well supplied with salting materials

Surrey has gone through two-thirds of its seasonal salt supply, and with another snowstorm heading this way, the city has altered its strategy.

With thick sheets of ice remaining on many local roads, Surrey is using a salt-and-sand mix to provide for better traction.

Surrey operations manager Rob Costanzo said this week that Surrey is well-positioned to make it through this winter season.

The city learned a lot during the winter of 2008, he said, when it was clobbered with a storm that lasted about three weeks. Angry callers crashed the city’s phone lines as they attempted to get their side roads plowed and their garbage picked up.

“I guess we haven’t experienced a winter like this since the ‘08-’09 storm,” Costanzo said. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons from that winter.”

At the time, Surrey had the capacity to hold 4,000 metric tonnes of salt at the works yard. The city went through more than 14,000 metric tonnes that year. Since then, the city has built a salt shed that holds 14,000 metric tonnes of salt.

And it’s fortunate it did, because after the protracted snowfalls late last year, Surrey is down to about 4,000 metric tonnes.

Costanzo said about 80 per cent of the city’s roads have been cleared, however, some routes are still heavily covered in ice.

Those are now being hit with a salt-and-sand mix.

Meanwhile, in small but hilly White Rock, operations manager Dustin Abt said that the city’s supplies of de-icing salt are holding out well.

“We got in good supplies prior to the season, and we have more on the way – as of Friday we will have ordered 320 metric tonnes to date.”

Abt said the city is proud that it didn’t get caught flat-footed like some other cities by this season’s heavier-than-usual snowfall.

“We’ve been watching Environment Canada (forecasts),” Abt said.

“We knew we were going to be getting La Nina this year and that would make it cold and dry – and if snow came, it was going to stick around for a while.”

With more snow forecast for the weekend, Abt noted the importance of city residents and business owners pitching in to help clear snow and ice.

“Under city bylaws they’re responsible to clear sidewalks outside businesses and residences by 10 a.m., except on weekends,” he said. “It’s all about being a good neighbour and having a sense of community.”

Residents should also be aware that de-icing salt is also available from commercial distributors rather than simply relying on stocks at home improvement and hardware stores, Abt said.

“All they have to do is Google to find distributors – that’s what we tell people who phone us up.”

Preparing for the anticipated dump of snow, Surrey is getting ready to spray a salt-brine solution on roads that have been cleared. The solution will slow snow and ice collection on those roads and will allow plows to get to all the main arterials, Costanzo said.

“Initial forecasts were talking about upwards of 45 centimetres of snow by Saturday,” Costanzo said. “But as of (Tuesday), they’ve downplayed it, they don’t expect it to be as severe, or anywhere near that.”

He hasn’t seen updated accumulation estimates, but said Surrey will be ready in any event, noting crews clear roads on a priority basis.

First to be cleared are arterial roads, major collectors, bus routes and roads with steep grades or school access.

Then, Surrey plows secondary roads in residential areas and access roads to long-term facilities. Next up are all other local roads.

“Our main focus is on the priority routes,” Costanzo said.

Because temperatures have been hovering around freezing, snow has been difficult to forecast. The last blast of snow lasted longer than forecasters expected and then turned to thick ice.

Surrey budgets $3.6 million for snow-clearing each calendar year.

“We’re just under budget for 2016,” Costanzo said.

So far, Surrey residents haven’t crashed the city hall phone lines as they did eight years ago.

“We’ve had an average of 400 calls per week since the week of Dec. 5,” Costanzo said.

Of the total 2,292 calls, 192 were for pothole repair, 1,500 were for removal of snow and ice, and 600 were for missed garbage collection.


– with files from Alex Browne