DOT Pressed To Cut Down On Highway De-Icers [Hartford Courant]

March 3, 2014

Article as it appeared in The Hartford Courant

By DON STACOM, [email protected]
5:26 PM EST, February 28, 2014

A Bristol-area state senator and the trucking lobby are pressing the state transportation department to use less magnesium chloride as a highway de-icer, complaining that trucks and cars are experiencing more undercarriage rusting than usual.

But the DOT contends that all ice-melting compounds are corrosive, and that Connecticut uses much less salt on its roads than some neighboring states.

“Constituents are very upset that this chemical is causing their car brake lines to corrode and that it may be contributing to the breakdown of materials used in the construction of our bridges,” state Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, said.

Welch has introduced a bill to require the DOT to study alternatives to magnesium chloride and report back next year. The General Assembly’s transportation committee held a hearing Friday that drew truckers and firefighters, who said rust on fire trucks has been occurring more frequently in recent years.

The trucking industry wants the state to add rust inhibitors to the chemical mix that it applies to melt ice on highways.

Transportation Commissioner James Redeker told legislators Friday that there are tradeoffs with any highway treatment; they vary in cost and effectiveness and also in the amount of corrosion they cause and the extent of environmental damage they do.

Redeker said his agency keeps up with current research about the effects of various ice preventative and de-icing compounds.

When the DOT tried rust inhibitors several years ago, they appeared to cause more environmental harm than expected.

State Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, urged his colleagues to rely on statistics rather than individuals’ accounts of corrosion trends, and emphasized that plow crews have coped with an uncommon number of storms in recent winters.

“We have to use fact-based, scientific studies to determine the best course,” he said, adding that the state must factor in motorists’ safety and environmental damage as well as metal rusting or concrete erosion.

“Everyone in the state has used more salt this year, probably [more] than ever in the past,” DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said. “We’ve had more storms which require a storm response using salt, so over the course of this winter we have used more than average. It’s been an abnormal winter.”

Redeker said Massachusetts uses about three times as much magnesium chloride on its roads than Connecticut does. The New York state transportation department reported that it put down nearly 109,000 gallons of liquid magnesium chloride on its roads in the 2012-13 winter, making it the third most heavily used material in its inventory. New York used bigger quantities of plain road salt and salt brine, but less liquid calcium chloride and less treated salt.

States in the Northeast, Midwest and even the Southeast started running low on road salt weeks ago after a series of widespread, long-lasting storms created layers of ice and hard-packed snow on highways.

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