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Push comes to shove on and under frozen Brookfield roads

Cold and snow take toll on streets and DPW salt supply

Feb. 4, 2014

As of mid-January this year, Brookfield had seen the same number of snow events that it typically sees in a whole winter, Public Works Director Tom Grisa said.

This high number of snowfalls, combined with extreme cold, has made it a tough season for public works that could significantly impact the budget.

7,000 tons of salt

The biggest expense could be the city's use of salt on the roads.

During a typical winter, the city starts with a dome full of of salt — about 3,000 tons — which it uses up at some point during the winter, then brings in about 4,700 more tons. By winter's end, the city again still has about 3,000 left over for the next winter.

This winter, the city has already used up its dome and is close to running through the 4,700 additional tons it had ordered. In fact, on Tuesday, Grisa said it's possible the department could use its last grains on the next snowfall. The city will be able to bring in some "reserve" salt, but it may have to cut back on how much salt it puts on the roads, depending on the amount of snow.

The real problem will come in the next city budget, when the city will likely have an empty salt dome for the next winter, requiring it to buy potentially thousands more tons of salt than usual. This winter, salt cost $54.27 per ton, meaning it could cost more than $160,000 to fill the dome.

"We'll be down to a couple grains by spring," Grisa said. "When we have to purchase more, that will be where we blow the budget."

Roads pushed up by frost

The extreme cold events, mixed with warmer interludes, have caused a significant build up of frost under roadways. When water in the ground freezes, it expands, pushing up the road and causing bumps. In areas where there were already cracks, even more water has been able to seep underground and push up the pavement around the fissures.

"We have seen a significant number of bumps show up based on the frost in the ground with the extraordinarily cold temperatures," Grisa said. "The frost heaves the roads up — sometimes the whole road, sometime just parts."

In some areas, so much of the road has been pushed up by frost that the parts of it that have not risen now feel like depressions.

In the 2300 block of North Pilgrim Square Drive, for example, parts of the road have stayed down because there are utilities running below it through trenches that have been filled with sand or gravel, where water can run freely, rather than getting stuck and frozen.

Grisa said he expects most of the bumps will self-correct in the spring, when the frost melts and the roads fall back into place.

However, some of the damage may be more severe, forcing city workers to fix the roads in spring, sometimes by digging up the problematic pieces and repaving them, and sometimes by grinding down the tops.

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