Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announces the city will reverse course, and use road salt to melt ice in future storms. The city also will consider buying more snow-removal equipment.

Share story

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels announced this morning that the city will reverse its decade-old policy and use road salt to melt ice in future storms.

The mayor set certain conditions for using salt: on hills, arterials or snow bus routes, and on routes to hospitals and other emergency facilities when at least 4 inches of snow is predicted, if ice is predicted, or if extreme cold is expected to last more than three days.

The city earlier refused to use salt, saying it’s bad for the environment, and instead spread sand over the roads.

“In normal Seattle winters, this practice has served us well,” Nickels said in a City Hall news conference today. “This time, liquid de-icers were not enough. People were frustrated, and so was I.”

Nickels has faced criticism over the city’s reaction to back-to-back snowstorms over the past two weeks. Buses could not run in many parts of the city and roads remained icy and rutted days after snow had fallen.

The state Department of Transportation and many cities in the area have been using a mix of sand and salt.

Still, the city kept using only de-icer and sand, saying salt could be harmful to Puget Sound. That policy was adopted by the city in 1998 “with the best of intentions,” the mayor said, but the last weeks’ weather proved the city should amend its plan.

Seattle officials considered using salt as the final storm approached, Nickels said, but by then, the temperature was expected to rise and they decided it was too late.

Over the next month, the city will consider buying more snow-removal equipment and making it easier for the Seattle Department of Transportation to hire outside contractors to help plow roads, he said.

Nickels said the city has hired two private crews to help the city’s five crews clear the streets of sand. They expect to finish that work in the next two weeks.

“I’m in charge of the city’s response,” the mayor said. “We will make sure that we learn from any mistakes that were made.”

It turns out, that even though the city decided not to use salt in the snowstorms, there was some on hand.

The city typically has 280 tons of salt at the ready for snow control. A city spokeswoman Wednesday did not know what amount was available last week, when the mayor said the city contemplated using salt to melt ice on the roads.

In the past, the city has used salt only to “keep the sand from freezing” in the back of city trucks before it’s spread on the streets, said Marybeth Turner, spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Transportation. For that purpose, the city has used a 5 percent mixture of salt and sand, Turner said.

Nickels said the city opted against using salt because it believed warm weather would melt the ice first.

The city used more than 9,000 tons of sand on major arterials to provide traction on snow-packed streets.

Staff reporter Susan Kelleher contributed to this report. Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or