SIKESTON -- Despite salt shortages and high prices, those who are in charge of keeping the roadways clear promise the same level of service they have provided in previous years.
"The commissioners have ensured me to do whatever it takes to keep the roads safe for the public," said Norman Brant, supervisor of the Scott County Highway Department. "So if it takes more money (than what's in the budget) we'll just have to find it some place."
Brant said the prices for salt have more than tripled this year. "The cost for a truckload was about $600, but now runs about $2,000," he said.
That's mostly just due to the simple rules of supply and demand.
"Everybody just about ran out (of salt) last winter, with all the storms, so everybody is having to restock their whole bay," he said. "Last winter, we used just about everything we had."
In addition to the depleted supply, the Missouri Department of Transportation pointed to the strong hurricane season and high Mississippi River levels, which made delivery of the salt via river barges slow. However, salts bids are taken in May, so it was virtually unaffected by the supply decline that occurred late in the summer, according to a news release.
"And we were fortunate in this part of the state, with the Mississippi River nearby, that we get a lot of our salt by barges," said Keith Gentry, maintenance superintendent for the Missouri Department of Transportation's southeast district, which is headquartered in Sikeston. "We did have a price increase, but it wasn't as significant as some other sections, such as northwest Missouri."
Gentry said the local department is currently getting shipments of salt ordered earlier this year. During the winter, as supplies are used part of the agency's contract agreement with suppliers is to provide for a replenishment before April 1.
Although the salt will be stored until winter weather strikes, some work will be done soon on bridges.
"With the temperatures dropping, we'll be doing some salt brining on the bridges," Gentry said. "Once the temperatures start dropping like they are now, you have the possibility of frost on the bridges."
Salt costs and shortages are not an issue in either New Madrid or Mississippi counties, which do not salt the roads, according to highway department officials there.
Officials are keeping their fingers crossed for a mild winter, which won't once again deplete salt supplies.
"But we'll just have to wait and see what happens," said Gentry. "In Southeast Missouri, you never know."
Brant agreed. "But I don't believe it could be as bad as last winter," he said.
Either way, the departments assured they are in good shape and ready to go if needed.
They also reminded motorists that, when severe winter weather hits, there are priorities when it comes to clearing roads.
"The interstate is definitely our No. 1 priority -- to keep it clean and open," said Gentry. Then the department focuses on major routes, such as Highway 61 and other numbered roads, then falling back to secondary routes.
"A lot of people don't understand that we have a lot of roads to clean," said Gentry. "But we get out there as quick as we can and we have people out there 24/7."
In Scott County, the priorities are decided when initially analyzing a storm. "We look at where the storm hits, then pick the primary routes in those areas," said Brant. "We have several two-man teams running."
Their advice for drivers? Take it nice and slow, and be patient. "And stay back and give the trucks their room," advised Gentry.
He also noted that, for those traveling, the department has an interactive map on its Web site, which shows winter weather conditions, in addition to work zones throughout the year. "Those are updated as conditions change," he said. There is information available by phone, too.
For information on road conditions across the state, as well as other tips and techniques, go to www.modot.org. Recorded road condition information is also available by calling toll-free 1-800-222-6400.