IRON RIVER—Is Iron County ready for a new system of clearing snow and ice from highways during winter? What if it works better but damages expensive equipment?
The pros and cons of a “pre-wetting” system were discussed during the Road Commission’s monthly meeting March 11.
Pre-wetting is a system in which liquid deicing chemicals (liquid salt, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride) are applied to sand or rock salt as it is being applied to the pavement.
The wet salt stays on road surfaces longer and leads to quicker melting of ice. It also works at a lower temperature than salt, which doesn’t work well when temperatures are below 20 degrees—however, its effectiveness also decreases as it gets colder.
Superintendent Doug Tomasoski told the commission he isn’t against a pre-wet system, but he doesn’t feel it is necessary to equip county trucks for something that would mostly be used on state trunklines.
“We should not up-front the cost,” he told the board. “We are a contractor to MDOT. They are not asking for it or requiring it.”
Board Chairman Dan Germic said a pre-wet system is being used in Florence County, and drivers go from pavement to ice when they cross into Iron County. “Obviously it’s working for Florence County, and it’s obviously making a difference.”
Commissioner Chris Sholander said county residents are asking for improved road conditions on the main roads in winter, like they see in Dickinson, Marquette and Florence counties. “There’s a significant difference.”
Tomasoski said there are different ways to do pre-wetting: spraying the road before a storm and spraying it on sand, salt just before it is spread on roads.
Commisioner Ernest Schmidt said the man running the chloride business near Gwinn told him the chloride will work down to minus 23 degrees. “We could look into it—set up one truck and see what happens.”
Head mechanic Dean Stolberg didn’t like that idea. “It’s going to destroy our trucks,” he warned the commission. “And what would one truck do? That one truck can’t do all our roads.” Stolberg still agreed to see how much it would cost to convert one truck to a pre-wet system.
Tomasoski said it would work best on light snow “because you can melt a lot of it away.”
“Does it work?” he said. “Yes. It’s obviously used across the nation.” His concern is with money and the Road Commission’s budget—especially if the county has to foot the bill.
“We’re not being asked by the owner of the facility [MDOT] to do any more than what we’re doing,” the superintendent said. “For us to spend the money without them asking or demanding through our contract with them, to me, doesn’t seem the right thing to do.
“Is it a good thing? Would it be a benefit for the roads and travelers for those couple of days where it’s snowing or whatever? Absolutely.”
Tomasoski said the Road Commission can explore the idea again and get more information about the costs and benefits of a pre-wet system. He said the board last looked into the matter three or four years ago.
One person in the audience said the biggest factor in winter storm cleanup is how quickly trucks start working on clearing the roads.
Another said he lives close to Dickinson County. “I can tell right when I hit that county line,” he said. “After a storm, it’s pavement. If MDOT has a policy with Dickinson County, why can’t we get the same policy to use the same material?”
Tomasoski said MDOT provided Dickinson County with pre-wet equipment about five years ago “on a trial type of basis.”
“We’ve asked. We ask almost every year if they will set us up. They say ‘No—but you will get the cost reimbursed over time, like we do on everything else,’” referring to sanders, trucks and blades.
• On a related topic, Commissioner Joe Sabol talked about problems the Road Commission has had this winter with the sand used in county trucks.
Sabol said the sand is lumping up in clumps too big to break up. “It’s just awful,” he said. “A couple of chunks would fill this room up.”
Tomasoski said the wet weather last fall may have contributed to the problem. Also, the proportion of fine material in the sand may also be a problem--less fine material means less binding, he said.
• The superintendent also updated the board about road limits. Some limits had been put in effect around Mount Pleasant and further south. The County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM) website has a map showing the status of road limits in each Michigan county.
As of the morning of the meeting, Tomasoski said, it looks like no limits will be needed locally through March 22. “But that could change tomorrow” depending on changing weather conditions.