Wrong salt, slag mix keeps roads slick, schools shut

Not enough salt caused problems on Youngstown roads.


YOUNGSTOWN — The city schools superintendent was driving to her office Friday when she saw a car slide out of control to avoid an adult who was walking in the street — because the sidewalk was not cleared of snow and ice.

Wendy Webb said the incident reaffirmed her decision to close schools Friday for the third consecutive day.

“There was no place for kids to walk but in the street,” she said.

“It was just too dangerous to put the kids on the street,” said Anthony DeNiro, assistant superintendent for school business affairs.

About half of Youngstown’s 7,250 children walk to school.

“We’d rather go an extra day when the weather is nice than to put the kids out there in that ice and snow,” DeNiro said.

The Warren city schools faced the same conditions, said Superintendent Kathryn Hellweg.

The sidewalks and side streets in the neighborhoods just weren’t cleared, Hellweg said Friday, noting that about half of Warren’s 5,600 children walk to school.

In many cases, there wasn’t even space cleared off for children to wait for a bus had school been open, she said.

“We can’t have our kids walking on the main thoroughfares or the middle of the road,” Hellweg said.

Streets were still snow-covered Friday morning.

The problem in Youngstown was the salt-slag mix its street department spread on roads had too little salt, which failed to melt snow and ice, said Joseph Mastropietro, the city’s street superintendent. More salt and less slag is needed when the temperatures are this low, he said.

“The salt amount we used was not breaking up the ice sufficiently,” he said. “The main streets, especially, were packed down by the traffic.”

Those main streets, he said, include Mahoning Avenue, Meridian Road, Market Street, Martin Luther King Boulevard, Belmont Avenue and Fifth Avenue.

On Friday morning, the department changed the 50-50 mix of salt-slag to two-thirds salt and one-third slag, Mastropietro said.

“We went back on the main streets [Friday] and hopefully it will melt,” he said.

Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, said the city was using less salt in the mix because it’s expensive.

But when it became obvious that the salt-slag wasn’t melting the snow and ice on the roads, more salt was added, Shasho said.

“I’m hearing a lot of complaints,” he said. “The main roads are unacceptable. They will be significantly better.”

Mayor Jay Williams said he was dissatisfied with the condition of the city roads. The cost of salt was not a consideration in the mixture, which contradicts what Shasho said.

“The mixture wasn’t appropriate for the conditions,” Williams said.

Williams added that he wasn’t pleased that it took a few days to figure out the salt-slag mix wasn’t helping road conditions.

“They’ve been doing this for a number of years,” he said of those at the street department. “Why did this happen? Someone missed an assignment and we corrected it. When you see a problem, you inquire about it and then fix it.”

Howard Tattrie, 48, of Youngstown gave the city the benefit of the doubt.

“I think they’ve done alright, given the money they have, the area they have to cover and the amount of snow that fell,” Tattrie said.

“Although getting up Fifth [Avenue] was tricky in a Ford Ranger,” he said of fishtailing up the hill.

Karen Davis of Youngstown works in 20 Federal Place and was willing to cut the city some slack as well.

“You can’t do much with four inches of ice on the road,” Davis said.

Some parents are having a difficult time dealing with the school closing, particularly those who work and may not have someone to watch their children, said Richard Pezzenti, vice president of the Kirkmere Elementary School PTO.

“The parents are going to be mad,” he said Friday. “I thought they would be back to school yesterday.”

Pezzenti said he isn’t angry with the school system and realizes school officials are acting “on the side of caution.”

It’s the city’s fault for not keeping the roads cleared, he said, noting that, as of Friday afternoon, some streets in his area still hadn’t been cleared.

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