GRAND LEDGE, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Transportation is trying something new at their Grand Ledge garage. They are participating in a pilot program testing out a liquid de-icer along Saginaw Highway instead of the normal road salt.
"Our main de-icer is road salt. It's a chloride product and chlorides are they helped prevent the bond of snow and ice on the pavement. So they melt snow and ice," said Melissa Longworth, operations engineer at the Lansing Transportation Service Center for MDOT.
MDOT's salt usage per storm varies based on the type of storm and temperature. The Grand Ledge garage's five-year average salt usage is about 7,300 tons per year. And this season they've used about 4,000 tons.
"Road salt is one of the most cost-effective de-icers, if not the most," Longworth said.
But road salt isn't good for the environment. And, in a recent study, scientists at Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that road salt could affect the future of the great lakes and inland rivers.
"If we're talking about Lake Michigan, and whether chloride is a threat, the answer is not right now, and that's because even though chloride has been steadily rising for the last century, it's still not at all what you'd consider salty, the chloride concentrations in Lake Michigan qualify it as very low chloride waters," said Anthony Kendall research assistant professor at the Michigan State University. "Where you have a lot of road salt is in septic tanks around smaller streams, smaller wetlands, and that's when we can start to see chloride levels get up to values that start to threaten ecosystems that are adapted to freshwater."
MDOT is experimenting in Grand Ledge with a special treatment that uses brine, which coats roadways better than plain salt and so requires less salt overall.
"This pilot all kind of started from senate legislation requiring us to try liquid mostly routes on our roads. And it required us to pilot it in three locations. So it started in Macomb County, they've been doing it for a couple of winters now. The beginning of this winter, Mount Pleasant garage, and Mount Pleasant transportation service center started doing it," Longworth said.
And now the Grand Ledge garage has been added to the list. They just started testing it out last week.
Don Hicks is the university region superintendent for the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says he's using his experience with traditional ways of salting roads and the equipment to help out during this pilot.
"We're just we're there to back her up and make sure that this liquid pilot is done in a way that we can measure it correctly," Hicks said. "When a snowstorm hits, we handled it the same way we've always done in the past except now we've got portable brine tanks at the Grand Ledge garage that we leased and then put in place to hold the liquid that we want to use for our tanker truck."
They will be testing it out along Saginaw Highway from Rosemary Street to Canal Road, which is close to the garage.
"Normally, you see like a truck full of salt, this one's gonna have a big tank on the back of it full liquid, and it becomes out behind the truck, there's a called a spray bar. And there are multiple different points where the liquid comes out onto the roadway," Longworth said.
They are learning about applying it in different ways.
"On the total opposite end of the roadway, we're going to be applying regular granular salt that way we can have a split. And we can compare the two ends of the roadway to see how this new liquid is faring against our traditional way of you know salt," Hicks said.
The liquid pilot is slated for five years and will be keeping track of data. Hicks says they expect to test out probably four or five more different liquid applications with different ag byproducts.
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