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Salt brine use for winter road treatment expands in El Paso County

Thursday’s first blast of winter weather in southern Colorado has renewed the use of a relatively new material, salt brine, sprayed on roads and highways in El Paso County.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) began applying the liquid as the season’s first snow and cold temperatures arrived Thursday.

It’s the second year that CDOT has used salt brine to treat surfaces while temperatures are above freezing and before snow and ice accumulate.

CDOT still uses a more traditional chemical, magnesium chloride, in colder and icier conditions.

El Paso County began acquiring salt brine equipment last season but was unable to use it then. The county began using it Thursday as a pre-storm treatment to bridges and overpasses.

Salt brine is considered by many street and road crews to be a cheaper, safer alternative to magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and other traditional chemicals.

“We can make it ourself, in-house, and save money,” Brad Bauer, a CDOT supervisor, said last season.

“If it works and keeps roads safer, I’m fine with it,” a local driver said. “But I’ve also seen how magnesium chloride kills trees along the roads, and that bothers me.”

In other states where salt brine is used, however, drivers have complained that the liquid causes vehicles to develop rust sooner. But CDOT and El Paso County add rust inhibitors to their salt brine.

El Paso County spent approximately $500,000 on equipment to produce, store and apply salt brine.

“It’s a supplement to magnesium chloride, not a replacement,” said Scot Cuthbertson, the county’s public works director. “But it’s more flexible. We can apply it as a de-icer or mix it with our sand-salt material. It keeps that material on the road longer.”

Cuthbertson said because salt brine is cheaper, it can be used more often.

“Anything that saves money on materials, labor and equipment is good,” he said. “And using salt brine more often keeps roads safer.”

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