ISHPEMING TOWNSHIP — The U.P. is fully into winter preparation mode in early November. The Michigan Department of Transportation is no exception, but road salt prices are making that preparation more difficult.

MDOT says it spent nearly $26.5 million on U.P. winter road maintenance. Salt took up about $6.1 million of that.

Last winter, it cost an average bulk price of just under $45 per ton. This year, the average price is more than $65 per ton, an increase of 46 percent. The price hike is affecting the agency all over the state.

“We budgeted $95 million for salt this winter (statewide),” MDOT Superior Region communications representative Dan Weingarten said. “Last year, we budgeted $88 million and we went significantly over that. With the reduced money that we see, we’re going to spend that money wisely.”

MDOT says this doesn’t mean it’ll skimp on salt. It’ll still use as much as it needs to keep roads safe, but it uses what it calls ‘sensible salting solutions’ to minimize that amount.

“Some of the things we try to do are slow the plows down when they’re applying salt,” Weingarten said. “We pre-wet the salt so that it sticks to the roads better, and we try to determine, using the best weather forecasting means available, where and when we need to put that salt down.”

MDOT’s average annual cost for winter road maintenance for the five years prior to last winter was just under $19 million. That means last winter cost MDOT about 40% more than an average season does.