By SPIROS GALLOS
Capital News Service
LANSING — Motorists may have one less thing to worry about when they travel the freeways in southwest Michigan this winter.
The Michigan Department of Transportation is expanding its anti-icing project to include all freeways in the Southwest Region, MDOT communications representative Julie Martin said.
The Southwest Region covers nine counties: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren. The major freeways in that region include I-69, I-94, I-196, U.S. 12, U.S. 31 and U.S. 131.
MDOT began the pilot phase of the project in 1999 with applications on U.S. 12 in Niles. The pilot phase continued through 2000 to include portions of I-94 and ended in 2001 with application on I-94 from the Michigan-Indiana border to the eastern border of Calhoun County.
The roads are covered with a material that lowers the freeze point of water when applied. The material is a 50-50 mixture of an agricultural byproduct, usually from sugar beets or corn, and a 30 percent solution of magnesium chloride.
Because the mixture is made with an agricultural byproduct it is totally nontoxic and biodegradable, Martin said. It is also does not cause rust on cars like ordinary road salt, she said.
The state maintains 27,820 miles of roadway and applied 486,428 tons of salt and 166,189 tons of sand in the 2001-02 winter season. MDOT applies salt and sand at an average rate of 450 pounds per lane mile. Using the anti-icing material, this rate can be reduced by 38 percent.
While the process is only in use in southwest Michigan, expansion to the rest of the state isn’t out of question. “We’re still compiling data, so expanding the anti-icing project is not likely anytime soon,” Martin said.
Some citizens are concerned about the anti-icing project. “When the project first started, I got a lot of e-mails and phone calls from people concerned that we were spraying roads when it was cold outside, now I just get one or two a week” Martin said.
Trucks equipped with interchangeable slide tanks apply the substance. In the winter, the trucks carry the anti-icing material and in the summer, the tanks carry pesticides and herbicides, Martin said.
The anti-icing material isn’t applied until after the first snowfall of the season and the snow is removed to prevent oils on the roads from creating a slippery situation. Applications are not done when road surface temperatures are above 38 degrees.
In cases where a severe storm is forecast, the material can be applied on roadways up to 24 hours in advance. That option would most likely be exercised in a lake-effect storm situation, Martin said.
For weather forecasting, MDOT depends on local TV and radio forecasts, as well as Doppler radar and Road Weather Information Systems, Martin said. “Our trucks are also equipped with road surface temperature gauges to help drivers know when to make applications,” she said.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By SPIROS GALLOS