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March 2012

Winter Maintenance Tools-

Article from Ministry of Transportation

Arwis weather sensor

The Ministry of Transportation uses advanced tools to improve snow and ice control. Some tools currently in use are:

  • Road and weather information sensors help maintenance crews make the best and most timely decisions on how to deal with winter conditions.
  • Anti-icing liquid, which is spread on the road prior to winter storms, stays in place, melts frost and prevents snow from bonding to the road surface and increases the effectiveness of plowing early in the storm.
  • Stationary automated anti-icing systems prevent slippery conditions.
  • Electronic spreader control equipment spreads salt and sand to ensure the correct amount is distributed.
  • De-icing liquids added to dry road salt melt ice and snow faster and stays on the road better than dry salt alone.
  • Global positioning systems and data collection help to manage winter snow and ice control operations.
  • Tow plows are a full-length, trailer-mounted plow blade, capable of clearing multiple lanes of traffic by operating as a side-wing when maneouvered into an adjacent lane.


Managing Snow and Ice With Salt

Maintenance vehicle spreading road salt

Road salt is the most cost effective snow and ice control materials available. Timely application of salt prevents snow and ice from bonding to the road surface. For this reason, salt is often spread early in a storm to prevent snow buildup and to aid in snow removal operations. In some areas, anti-icing liquids are applied directly to the pavement to minimize bonding. The effectiveness of road salt is assisted by the sun, traffic and warmer daytime temperatures. You may notice that salt is often applied in a narrow strip along the centre or high point of the highway. This row of salt develops into a salt-water mixture, which flows across the highway, ensuring the most efficient and effective use of the material.

The Ministry of Transportation is investigating ways to control and reduce the use of salt and its impact on the environment, while ensuring highway safety.

Sand, salt and anti-icing liquids play a big role in keeping roads safe.


Did you know?


Road salt works poorly when temperatures drop below -12o C. That is why bare pavement can be difficult to achieve in extremely low temperatures.



Providing Traction

Sand is used to provide traction on slippery surfaces. Unlike salt, it does not melt snow and ice. Sand is used most often when temperatures are too low for salt to be effective. Sand is also used at higher temperatures if traction is required immediately, particularly on hills, curves, bridges, intersections, and snow-packed roads.


Contracting of Snow and Ice Control Services

Anti-icing vehicle

Snow and ice control services are provided through contractors, which are directly responsible for responding to a variety of winter conditions. These contractors are governed by contract standards, specifications and required performance outcomes.

The Ministry of Transportation sets the standards for snow and ice control services, dictates the performance outcomes and oversees the contracts to ensure compliance. The ministry has several options available to ensure contractor performance. The ministry audits contract operations to ensure contractors are compliant and that performance outcomes are achieved. Consequences for non-performance can be severe.


Maintenance contractors perform the following activities:

Before a Storm

  • Check for changing road and weather conditions.
  • Make sure staff, supplies and equipment are ready and available.
  • Apply anti-icing liquid to the highway surface at the appropriate time.
  • Plan when to start salting, sanding or plowing operations.

During a storm

  • Continue to check road, weather and traffic conditions.
  • Apply salt or anti-icing liquid to help prevent the snow from bonding to the highway surface.
  • Allow time for the salt to do its job.
  • Follow pre-determined routes to ensure the busier highways are serviced first.
  • Start plowing the snow from the through lanes.
  • After the through lanes are cleared, start removing snow from exit ramps, turning, truck climbing and passing lanes, shoulders and medians.
  • Continue plowing snow and applying salt and sand throughout the storm to minimize snow accumulation and maintain traction.
  • When it is too cold for salt to work, apply sand to the highway to improve friction.
  • Assist the OPP with road closures and emergencies when required.
  • Restock salt, sand and anti-icing liquids as required.

After a storm

  • Continue to check road, weather and traffic conditions.
  • Continue to plow, salt or sand the highway until the surface returns to bare pavement standards.
  • Remove snow from shoulders, medians, truck climbing and passing lanes.
  • Remove any snow banks that may cause a hazard.
  • Remove any snow or ice that may cause drainage problems at ditches and culverts.
  • Check for damage to items such as signs and guiderails that may have occurred during the storm and make repairs.
  • Inspect and, if required, repair winter equipment.
  • Restock salt, sand and anti-icing liquids.

The public can expect:

  • Plowing, salting or sanding and clean-up after the storm.
  • Plowing to commence when 2 cm of snow or slush accumulate on the roadway.
  • Equipment to be deployed within 30 minutes of the start of a winter storm.
  • Crews monitoring the winter storm and adjusting operations as required for intensity, duration and precipitation type.

The public should be aware, however, that in winter:

  • A severe or long storm may delay restoring highway to bare pavement standards, even with the best efforts of highway crews.
  • It may take up to eight hours for plows or sanders to begin servicing ramps and low-volume roads.
  • Extreme weather may result in the closing of highways.
  • Weather conditions can be variable and unpredictable, placing extra demands on a vehicle and a person’s driving skills.
  • Salt becomes ineffective for melting ice and snow at temperatures below minus 12˚C.

MTO sets performance targets for snow and ice control to achieve the bare pavement standard after the end of the storm. The bare pavement standard for each class of highway is:

  • Eight hours for freeways and multi-lane highways, e.g. Highway 401, Queen Elizabeth Way, Highway 11 and four-lane sections (Class 1).
  • Sixteen hours for high traffic volume, two-lane highways, e.g. Highway 17 Trans-Canada (Class 2).
  • Twenty-four hours for medium traffic volume, two-lane highways, eg. Highway 35 (Class 3).
  • Twenty-four hours to centre bare for low volume, two-lane highways, e.g. Highway 516 (Class 4).
  • Some highways with low traffic remain snow packed for most of the winter (Class 5).
  • On Class 5 highways, excess snow is plowed off and sand is applied to improve friction.

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