Made In EG: DOT’s New Road Salt ‘Brine’ [VIDEO]
No, not Salty Brine. Rather, it's a new process that's lowered the amount of salt needed to treat roads, saving money and helping reduce environmental costs too.
In a corner of East Greenwich that many residents don’t realize is part of EG, the state Department of Transportation is making a road salt brine that has transformed how many state roads are treated before and during snow storms.
RIDOT has a facility behind the McDonalds on New London Turnpike, across the street from the Centre of New England shopping plaza. (Many people assume that’s whole area is part of Coventry. Most is, but the McDonald’s, the DOT facility and even Cracker Barrel across the street are in East Greenwich.)
And recently the facility was in the news – both EcoRI and the Providence Journal wrote about the relatively new “Brine Boss” contraption there that makes salt water that can be spread on roads before snow falls, with practically no salt loss and making plowing more effective.
So I decided to take a trip all the way there (!) to check out the Brine Boss in action.
The first thing you’ve got to know about DOT facilities – they are the stuff of a truck-loving child’s dreams. There are lots and lots big trucks. There’s also a rather unassuming structure about the size of a medium-size dumpster. That’s the Brine Boss.
It’s pretty simple, really, salt and water mixed together. But you need to get the exact right amount of salt and water and you need lots of it. So the Brine Boss keeps track of the amount of water added to the salt to get to the magic percentage: 23 percent salinity.
“That’s the maximum amount of salt we can put in water where it stays suspended on its own,” according to Joe Baker, administrator of the Division of Highway and Bridge Maintenance for RIDOT. Making the salt into a brine instead of just throwing it down in solid form is what makes the difference, he said.
“What it really does, it that it prevents that snow and ice from bonding with the pavement. That’s what you want to avoid because that’s when you get the hard pack,” Baker explained. “Once traffic starts pounding on that stuff, it just goes down and it ices and it locks in with the pavement and it’s very difficult to get it up. So by putting this down there, it kind of acts as a little barrier layer. When those first flakes come down it gives us a chance to be able to come by the next time with a plow to be able to push it off and put some salt down.”
The Brine Boss wasn't cheap – it cost $70,000 including plumbing hookups. But Baker said salt's expensive and throwing it on the road leads to lots of waste (as well as environmental harm when it ends up on the side of the road or in runoff instead, as it often does).
East Greenwich was the site for the first Brine Boss because of the facility's central location. But Baker said more Brine Boss machines will be coming. It's proven a worthwhile investment.