BRECKENRIDGE — Drivers may see less sand on the roads next winter, as the Colorado Department of Transportation shifts to a more effective and efficient alternative to magnesium chloride and granular products.
Apex, a new liquid deicer product, can manage slick winter roads at lower temperatures and in smaller quantities than other techniques, transportation officials say.
The switch comes after CDOT transferred Summit County into a new internal planning region, where maintenance officials plan to employ the use of Apex more frequently on local roads.
“Because lower temperatures are so prevalent in Summit County, it’s going to be (the better choice),” CDOT spokesman Bob Wilson said.
Magnesium chloride has historically been unpopular in Summit.
Several years ago, local residents began noticing dying trees along local streets and, aided by information from several studies, blamed the phenomenon on the use of mag chloride. At one point county officials asked the state transportation department to back off the use of the chemical.
A taskforce was also formed to investigate the issue and a lodgepole pine-beetle epidemic followed. Ultimately, the committee determined that magnesium chloride was no more harmful to the environment than its alternative, traction sand. Officials now say the science available in the past was incomplete and more recent research has shown that chemical deicers aren’t as harmful as once thought.
“In the end, the conclusions were that all this stuff is bad,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “Whether sand or magnesium chloride, it just needs to be used judiciously. We don’t like any of that stuff, but we also don’t like accidents.”
Technology has changed as well, introducing products, like Apex, that have again changed the conversation about how to best manage slick roads in the High Country. For local officials, Summit County’s transfer into a new planning region presented an opportunity to readdress the issue of winter highway maintenance.
“Not only has the science changed about what’s good and what’s bad, but also the product has changed significantly,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “They can use just a fraction of what they used to use, it’s a lot better for the environment than sand and magnesium chloride and you don’t have the monstrous clean up that you have with sand.”
Liquid deicers and sand are damaging to vehicles. The deicer is corrosive to paint on cars and trucks, while granular products get kicked up by traffic and can cause windshield cracks and body damage.
Local officials have expressed frustration with the use of sand, saying it frequently accumulates along highways and gets washed into waterways.
“Our traction sand collection is out of control,” Noll said.
Summit County and its state highways were transferred earlier this year to the jurisdiction of CDOT’s Region 3 from Region 1, which included much of the Interstate 70 mountain corridor prior to a restructuring of the regional map. Local officials have expressed concerns about the move, which separates the management of Summit County roads from that of the Eisenhower Tunnel.