Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Pass the salt, please, or not February 20, 2020

Interstate 90 in Wisconsin is noticeably white from road salt. It was like this all the way from La Crosse to Madison last weekend.


WHEN YOU’RE ON THE INTERSTATE for nearly four hours, you start to notice things. Like the semi drivers seemingly nodding behind the wheel as their rigs hit the rumble strip or drift toward your lane. Or the guy driving with his window open on a cold February afternoon because maybe, just maybe, he’s trying to stay awake. Or the driver who can’t wait even a second as he tailgates, then swoops around on the right before cutting in front of you.

All of this happened on a recent trip to and from Madison, Wisconsin, along Interstate 90. In addition to the questionable, and often frightening behavior (especially by four professional truck drivers), I noticed something else—a heavily-salted interstate. I-90 in Wisconsin stretched before Randy and me like ribbons of white.


There was much less salt, if any, on I-90 in southeastern Minnesota.


By contrast, I-90 in Minnesota appeared mostly clear of road salt. Why the difference in bordering states? I don’t know the stance Wisconsin takes on salting to cut snow and ice. But I do know that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is shifting toward a more conservative use of salt due to concerns about salt entering our waterways. We are, after all, The Land of 10,000 Lakes.


This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.


In media reports I’ve heard and read, MnDOT is taking a technological and scientific approach to treating roads in an effort to reduce salt usage. That includes pre-treating roads before storms (which uses less salt), relying on calibrations, factoring in temperature and other data to determine how roadways should be treated. It’s no longer simply a load up the trucks with salt and sand and chemicals and get out there mindset.

I appreciate this respect for our natural resources, this shift in thinking. Just remind me of that the next time I complain of icy roads or sidewalks. Or the next time Randy and I throw salt down on our icy driveway or sidewalk.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “Pass the salt, please, or not”

  1. Brian Says:

    Thank you for your thoughts and comments Audrey. This former professional driver certainly is aware of the poor driving habits of others and know that everyday on busy Minnesota roads are an adventure. While I appreciate the proactive use of ice and snow melting material in Minnesota I sure don’t like what it does to my vehicles. North Dakota uses sand on their roads. Unfortunately North Dakota has an abundance of something not normally experienced in Minnesota, wind, and plenty of it. That makes the use of sand on ice covered roads less effective because it blows to the shoulders which pheasants appreciate, then you get a softball sized hole in your expensive grill from the bird because the ones on the left fly to the right and the ones on the right fly to the left when you approach them. The joys of Minnesota and North Dakota driving, pick your poison.

  2. As someone who enjoys MN waterways and fishing, I am very happy that MN has taken a more conservative approach to using chemicals and salt on roadways. It saves the taxpayer if they wisely use the resources and also protect our natural resources. I see it as a win/win situation for Minnesota!

  3. When I lived in Nevada they used a liquid spray de-icer (similar to de-icing a plane). I am not sure how safe it was for the environment though. I know the vehicles were in better shape with it than salt. The chains however took a toll on the roads though. That was a requirement in certain areas to get through in storms or you were stuck or paying through the nose for chains. Safe Travels. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. The amount of road salt even on sidewalks in my town us ridiculous. At the slightest hint of ice conditions they spray the stuff like it’s going out of style.

    Side note: bootie makers for dog paws are probably well on to indefinite riches.

  5. I think most areas really do try to stay ahead of the storms and pre treat the roads. I know even here in NC they do that when there is a storm coming. In Ohio they always used a sand/salt mixture. Not sure what they use here in NC on the regular roads but in our development they definitely use salt and sand. We have treacherous roads and the shadiness makes it difficult for the ice to melt. My best advice is always to just stay home until it is clear. I have books to read, after all!

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