City street crews prepare for cold weather

Not all streets can be treated, caution advised

February 10, 2021 - by Amy Cloud, Communications and Outreach, Public Works

With cold temperatures in the forecast and a chance of snow this week, City of Bellingham crews have been busy preparing local arterials. The City’s five large sanders and plows and three smaller trucks that can be fitted with sanders and plows have been prepared.  Even before plowing, the vehicles are used to prepare the streets for ice and snow. 

According to Jess Herring, interim Public Works Operations Division street supervisor, “We’ve applied a salt brine solution to all our sanding route streets in anticipation of this weather front. The brine helps accelerate snowmelt and prevent ice from bonding to the street surface.” 

Crews travel through the City’s six snow routes on three shifts per day laying down deicer. When the weather is cold enough, remaining dry and in the teens, crews may use Boost™ (beet juice) – which keeps ice from forming.

Once snow and ice are already on the streets, City crews use straight salt in the downtown corridor and around Lake Whatcom. Crews avoid sand in these areas in order to keep silt and dirt out of the City’s catch basins and Lake Whatcom.  After the weather changes, all that sand must be swept up by the City.

The City’s snow routes – which cover much of the City’s 300 lane miles of streets – are arterials and some secondary arterials, highly traveled routes and those essential for Police, Fire and Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA)  and Bellingham schools. That means that secondary and some residential streets will be untreated and likely slippery.

Icy conditions can be reported by calling (360) 778-7700 at any time. Crews will respond as they are able using established priorities and routes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find the City’s deicing routes?
The City deicing routes are available online.

What is the protocol for street preparation and plowing?
The City’s winter weather protocols are available online. 

  • Plowing typically starts when four inches of snow has accumulated and is forecast to continue;
  • Four-lane roads initially have only one lane plowed in each direction with additional lanes open as time and conditions permit; and
  • Access to side streets are cleared only after the priority routes are completely cleared.

How much sand, salt and brine does the City have on-hand?  Are you able to get more if needed?
We currently have about 1,000 tons of salt plus 15,000 gallons of salt brine and 3,000 gallons of Boost on hand. That’s enough for roughly four weeks of snow.  More is available on stand-by.

Does the City use chemicals for deicing?
The chemical that some are worried about for snow and ice removal is Magnesium Chloride – which the City does not use because it’s not good for fish or streams.  We have never used it and won’t. We are all-natural: salt, sand and water.

How do you decide whether to use salt versus sand? 
Sand is primarily applied for traction; salt is used to break down snow and ice. Sand is used in a five parts salt to one part sand ratio in most areas.  Because pervious surfaces like some sidewalks and bike lanes which help filter storm water runoff can be clogged by sand, in those locations the use of sand is avoided. Sand doesn’t break down the ice, it just sits on top. Salt will break down the ice.  Additionally, sand carries phosphorous, which we’re trying to keep out of Lake Whatcom – our drinking water source. 

More information

Washington State Department of Transportation winter driving tips.

Media Contact
(360) 778-7700

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