The snow was a little later this year than last, but it showed up in time for Christmas — and to cause some accidents on Interstate 84.
To combat icy roads this year, the Oregon Department of Transportation began using rock salt on the roads when necessary between Boardman and the Idaho border.
Peter Murphy, a spokesman for ODOT, said the department had been using salt since Dec. 1 between the Idaho border and the top of Deadman Pass, near Meacham.
Murphy, who is based in Bend, said he spoke to one of the managers for the region about road conditions in Eastern Oregon.
“He said it’s been working well,” relayed Murphy, adding that thus far there have been no significant closures of I-84 due to winter conditions.
ODOT has been building several salt sheds in the region, each of which can store up to 1,000 tons of salt.
The salt shed at Exit 193 in Echo is still being constructed. Murphy said ODOT has been using salt from the La Grande salt shed for use on the Pendleton side of Deadman Pass. He said ODOT estimates they have used between 700 and 1,000 tons of salt in the region so far, but that includes everywhere from the Idaho border to Meacham. And because this is the first year using rock salt on roads in the region, he said it’s difficult to know what that number means.
Murphy said with magnesium chloride, another substance ODOT uses to combat icy roads, crews would try to limit its use to hills, curves and other trouble spots. Crews would also try to lay it down before snow or ice arrived.
Salt works a little differently, Murphy said. It’s best to lay it down at the first hint of snow or ice.
“You have to time it so you put it down just as the storm starts and then let it do its job,” Murphy said.
Murphy said thus far, Umatilla County hadn’t seen many bad accidents due to the weather.
“There’s lots of slide-offs, dings and bangs,” he said.
He said he didn’t know whether that could be attributed to the use of rock salt, but he urged drivers to continue taking whatever precautions they could.
“Most crashes involve driver behavior,” he said. “We want people to understand they can do something — leaving early is something we can control.”