Winter weather challenges salt supplies around Indiana

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Wednesday marks 57 days until astronomical Spring and many county salt supplies are at levels typically seen in the Spring.

County highway departments around Indiana are struggling to keep up.

"We're seeing a record-breaking winter," said Lesley Gordon with the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

It's also bank-breaking; supplies alone are draining the budget.

"We have already used 34,000 tons of salt. In a typical winter we use 33,000 tons," Gordon said.

Add in overtime for crews working around the clock since New Year's Eve and you get a price tag of $7.3 million in Indianapolis.

"We're definitely seen record budgets and we're going to have to look at other forms of finances for our department but the budget will not stop us from maintaining the safety of the streets," Gordon said.

Officials say it's too soon to tell which areas of the city budget will get slashed. Another order of salt arrived Wednesday, adding to the mounds.

To the south in Brown County, it's a dramatically different story. An area normally full of a combination of salt and sand is now empty. It would typically be stacked to the ceiling. With the continuous non-stop snow events, supplies are running out. 

"I have been here for 34 years and this is probably the second time or third time that we have been like this," said Brown County Highway Department Assistant Superintendent Troy Brock.

Brown County has more than 400 miles of rounds to maintain.

"The salt will melt the snow and the soft snow will give us traction on the hills and intersections," Brock said.

Salt is being ordered all around Indiana, but Brown County is dangerously low at less than 50 tons. Due to high demand, the supplier can't restock until Monday, but more snow is expected before then.

"With not having any salt, no one is going to be able to move. We have so many hills and hollers down here, everyone lives on a hill or a holler, and no one is going to be able to get out," Brock said.

Brown County only used 800 tons of salt last year. They're even more concerned about March, which is historically an icy time for the county.

Officials say they can no longer afford over time for crews this season, forcing them to reexamine their budgets.

To the north in Boone County, the highway department has used all of its 500 tons of salt ordered for the year. Another 500 came earlier this week, which officials say should last the rest of the winter.

In Hamilton County, 4,900 tons of salt were used, leaving crews with 1,500 tons. An order of 600 tons is expected by week's end.

For the entire state of Indiana, INDOT reports 175,000 tons of salt used so far this winter, as of January 4. INDOT has spent $19.6 million clearing the roads since January 4.

INDOT says it has a steady supply of salt to last the winter, but crews continue to place orders.

Much of the salt is delivered via a barge on the Ohio River and is then trucked up from Jeffersonville, Indiana.