Nov 20, 2015

More salt, some sugar beet juice being used to de-ice local roads

In an effort to make roads drier and safer in winter conditions, the Wyoming Department of Transportation is increasing the amount of salt it puts down on local roads.

WyDOT is increasing the salt content in its mixtures from about 3 percent to 7 percent, said agency spokesman Cody Beers.

The de-icing mixture will help WyDOT crews get back to black pavement sooner. Photo courtesy National Park Service
The new percentage remains significantly lower than other states'.

“There’s some states that use 40 to 70 percent salt, and that’s when you get into the major impacts to vehicles,” Beers said.

WyDOT built a small plant near its Cody shop on Beacon Hill Road to produce salt brine, which is basically salt water, he said.

Over the past few years, WyDOT crews hauled salt brine from Thermopolis to Park County. With the new plant in Cody, "we feel like we're better prepared for the winter this year," Beers said.

"It allows us to be more responsive to storms, to get out there and make our roads safer year-round," he said.

He encourages drivers to wash their vehicles after winter storms.

"If the road is wet and it's under 32 degrees, that probably means we're using some chemicals on the road," Beers said. "So after that storm, when it warms back up, we would just suggest washing them down really good."

Washing vehicles helps neutralize the salt solution.

"If you see a white tinge on your beautiful red car that you're driving, take it in and wash it off," he said.

He said WyDOT washes trucks after storms since salt is corrosive.

"Those chemicals are corrosive by nature, but we are diluting those chemicals and it is allowing us to have safer roads to drive on," he said. "Our No. 1 priority at WyDOT is safety."

When Beers announced the added salt during a recent appearance on KODI-AM’s “Speak Your Piece,” several listeners called in and criticized the plan, citing concern for their vehicles.

“We’re not dumping loads of salt out on the road," Beers emphasized, noting that WyDOT has always used some salt with sand on roads.

The mixture also includes sugar beet juice.

Sugar beets are pictured at a local beet dump. Cody News Co. file photo by Carla Wensky
“Where we do have access to beet juice — it’s a byproduct of sugar beets — we are using it, and it’s helping us to turn our roads back to black pavement sooner. And you know in the wintertime, that’s a good thing,” Beers explained on “Speak Your Piece.”

WyDOT buys the juice for use on area roads during the fall and winter.

"It allows us to coat the road below 32 degrees, and it works really well," Beers said. "It's got a little bit lower freezing point than regular water."

Temperatures must be above zero degrees to apply the solution. After it starts breaking down the ice, a snowplow will come to push the ice off the road, he said.

Salt brine is sprayed on sand and then applied to roads, helping melt the ice more quickly.

“That wet sand that has salt on it sticks to the ice better,” Beers said. “It will melt down into the ice and improve the friction between your tires and the driving surface."

Using a tanker, WyDOT crews also can shoot the salt brine directly on icepack that builds up on U.S. Highway 14-A between Powell and Cody.

Beers said WyDOT employees take a lot of pride in making roads safe. During storms, crews will work 20 hours a day.

"We're going to do everything we can — within reason and within our budget — to make our highways safe," he said. "Snow removal is a big deal in Wyoming."


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