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SDOT’s Snow and Ice Policy: Managing Roads & Water Quality

Last month’s storms showed how SDOT’s updated policy to deal with snow and ice improved our storm response.   And of course we could be dealing with more snow and ice in the weeks ahead.

So what is that new snow and ice policy, anyway?

In 2009 SDOT updated our snow and ice removal policy to industry standards, drawing from best-practices from the Federal Highway Administration.  Seattle Public Utilities did an environmental review of our new policy to make sure we are doing the right thing for the environment.

A key change was to switch from relying heavily on sanding roads to a strategy which focuses on keeping snow and ice from sticking to the road. 

When a storm approaches, step 1 is to apply anti-icing materials to prevent snow and ice from bonding to the road.  This is often the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to deal with an oncoming winter storm.

Step 2 is to apply de-icing materials to remove snow and ice that have bonded to the road surface.

We do use some “abrasives” such as sand in combination with de-icer treatments on key trouble areas such as hills, curves and stopping zones, but we keep use of sand to a minimum. 

The new approach has many advantages:

  • While it can provide traction, sand does nothing to help remove snow and ice from the road.
  • Now that we don’t apply huge amounts of sand to the roads, we no longer have to make the extra effort to sweep and dispose of all that extra sand.  In fact, our normal sweeping and individual requests for sweeping quickly remove the minimal amount of sand used during storms.
  • Less sand is good for water quality.  Today we have vastly less sand and fine particulates going into our drainage systems and clogging spawning areas in our local streams.

For more information on our snow and ice removal policy, visit