THOUSANDS of tonnes of salt is stockpiled and ready to keep the roads clear this winter.
Highways Agency bosses says lessons have been learned from shortages last year and they are now confident of maintaining supplies.
About 3,500 tonnes of the 250,000 tonnes held nationally is in a salt dome at the agency’s Carrville depot, near the junction of the A690 and A1(M).
“We would expect to use this and replenish it once,” said Phill (CORR) Beaumont, the Highways Agency’s winter services manager. “When it ran short, some organisations used a mixture of rock salt and grit, but this is pure rock salt from Cleveland Potash at Whitby.
“Last winter was difficult because there was quite a lot of snow and marginal nights for temperature, which meant we were spreading night after night.”
The agency relies on information from two detailed weather forecasts a day and 18 weather stations to decide when to send out the gritters.
“The stations give real time information,” said Phill. “That includes air temperature, road temperature and moisture.
“The aim is to spread about three hours before the temperature drops to one degree centigrade, so there is time for the salt to get into solution to do its work.
“It’s not the salt that gives the grip, it’s the solution so we need time for the salt to be driven over and to pick up moisture from the frost and snow,”
About a dozen staff are based permanently at Carrville with another six at a smaller depot further south along the A1(M) at Bradbury.
Phill added: “We have state-of-the-art gritters. Also at Carrville are two snow blowers, these are particularly useful for the A66 towards Cumbria where there can be drifts of several feet on the higher sections.
“Quite often there’s very little snow lower down which makes people think we close it for no reason, but that decision is led by Durham Police and it’s never taken if not absolutely necessary.”
The Highways Agency is responsible for strategic trunk routes such as the A1(M), A689, A19 and A66.
Co-operation with local authorities means there should be plenty of salt for minor roads.
“We have a mutual aid agreement with the councils,” said Phill. “This means Durham County Council effectively works from our Carrville depot and has access to the salt there.
“Lessons have been learned from last year.
“We are confident we have sufficient salt and spreading equipment for our needs this year.”