The city of Lowell, Mass., recently reported to community members that its public works department decreased winter road salt use by 30 percent and saved more than $780,000 on its snow and ice budget. The city attributed the savings to its installation of SpreadSmart Rx spreader control systems on its snowplow trucks. Based on a truck’s speed plus air and road surface temperatures, the electronic spreader control system—rather than snowplow truck operators—regulates the rate of salt or other deicing prescriptions applied to winter road surfaces. SpreadSmart Rx spreader control systems are designed and manufactured by Cirus Controls of Minneapolis, Minn.

Before installing electronic spreader controls on its snowplow trucks, the Lowell Department of Public Works was applying tons of salt on city streets for each winter storm. “Our operators would typically set their existing manual spreaders to maximum and go, putting down about 1,000 pounds of salt per lane mile. As a result, our streets were often covered in salt after a storm,” said Kevin Murphy, Lowell city manager. The leftover salt also raised aesthetic and environmental concerns.

Over the last three fiscal years, Lowell and DPW cut road salt use by 30 percent when measured in tons per inch of snow. The drop is significant for three reasons. The seasonal amount of snowfall tripled during this time. The average temperature dropped by 9 degrees over this period. And there were more ice-related events in the Great Winter of 2013-2014 than the two previous snow seasons that required salt spreading — salt use not factored into the tons of salt used per inch of snow statistic.

Over the last two fiscal years, Lowell saved over $780,000 on its snow and ice budget. In FY 2013, the city saved $463,556. In FY 2014, the city saved another $322,892. “Over the next few years, more savings are expected as additional trucks are upfitted with Cirus salt spreader controls,” said Ralph Snow, Lowell department of public works commissioner. Lowell has also been saving more money by cleaning up less salt after each winter storm or ice event.

“Our number one objective is to provide customers better tools for cutting salt use and saving money,” said Paul Mortell, president of Cirus Controls. “And by working closely with the Lowell Department of Public Works to develop a snow and ice control package specific to Lowell’s needs and concerns, we were able to achieve that goal.”

To date, Lowell has installed SpreadSmart Rx spreader controls on 24 new and older snowplow trucks. “The cost for equipping each truck was about $8,300 for a total investment of around $200,000,” said Snow.

The investment in salt spreader controls from Cirus Controls has helped Lowell both environmentally and financially. “We’ve significantly reduced the amount of salt runoff into our rivers, streams and homeowners’ yards,” said Murphy. “In addition, the salt savings over the last two snow seasons has reduced our snow and ice liability. The smaller liability has negated our need to dip into any other budget surpluses or incorporating a greater snow and ice deficit into the following year’s budget, which would add to our citizens’ tax burden.”

As the winter of 2014-2015 settles in, Lowell and DPW look forward to continuing the trend of cutting salt use and saving money — and helping its snow and ice budget last through another unpredictable New England winter.

About Cirus Controls
Cirus Controls designs, engineers and manufactures central hydraulic systems, electronic spreader controls, advanced plow controls and innovative telematics-based data management systems for winter road maintenance vehicles. The company’s award-winning winter road maintenance system provides fleet and operations managers and commercial operators with improved tools for making snow and ice control operations more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. For more information, contact Cirus Controls at 763.493.9380 or [email protected]. Learn more at