Winter road treatment goes high-tech in Brunswick

BRUNSWICK, Ohio-- Maintaining roads during an Ohio winter seems these days to be part science and part chemistry.

On a typical winter day, the city of Brunswick dispatches trucks with loads of ordinary rock salt.

But service director Paul Barnett says when temperatures dip below 17 degrees, salt by itself is not only ineffective; as much as 30-percent of it literally ricochets off of the pavement and does little or no good.

In recent years, cities, along with the Ohio Department of Transportation, have experimented with various different formulas of additives to salt as well as chemicals.

Brunswick is using a treatment that, until now, has been marketed mostly out west, in places like Colorado, and is just now trying to make inroads into Ohio.

"Calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, some sticking agents and some proprietary materials that they won't tell us what it is," said Barnett.

The spray does come at a cost: about $10-$12 a ton more than salt by itself, for which the city pays about $36 a ton. That comes to about $8,000 for the treatment alone.

What Brunswick wants to know is how much more effective it really is and under what conditions.

To do that they are going high-tech.

At two intersections, including the intersection of Pearl Road and Laurel the city has mounted special sensors and cameras that will provide mountains of data they can study.

"The lasers tell us a few different things. They tell us the temperature of the roadway, the ambient air temperature," said Bennett, explaining, "The most important thing is the temperature of the roadway. You could have an air temperature of 35 degrees and have a roadway 28 degrees and the water is going to freeze on 28 degrees where it is not going to freeze in the ambient temperature."

The sensors will also tell if the road is wet or dry. If the roads are wet the equipment will be able to detect if it is black ice or slush, frost or if it is snow-packed.

"Basically it tells you the friction factor, how good your braking is and it all boils down to you want the best braking that you could possibly have, so that's the key number, that it's going to give us," explained Bennett.

The cameras will be able to take pictures every ten minutes to see what the intersections look like both before and after they are treated.

"We will be able to compare that we have got one location where we are going to be running the enhanced salt and we have another location where we are going to be running just straight rock salt, so we will be able to compare straight rock salt with the enhanced salt to see what the differences are," said Bennett.

"From that we will decide, do we want to run enhanced salt all the time? Do we only want to run enhanced salt when the temperature drops below 20? Then we can make those intelligent decisions," he added.

The cameras and equipment were provided as loaners from the company Envirotech.

They will monitor road conditions and treatments for at least a year.

While the city can use the data to more effectively use its resources, Bennett says, for him, the most important factor is not necessarily to save money.

"You can look at it two different ways: You can look at it as we are going to find a way to save money or you can look at it as let's spend the same amount of money, but let's increase the effectiveness of what we are doing so right now I'm not looking to save money; I'm looking to increase the service that we provide," he said.

More on winter weather in Northeast Ohio.