Cure for slick roads: Beet-juice

With accidents piling up within the city as both newcomers and longtime residents alike adjust to the icy and slushy roads of North Dakota winters, the city of Minot is testing a new road-coating system on main thoroughfares within the city that uses beet juice to stick salt and sand on roads longer and more efficiently.

“The reason we’re doing this is because we have a lot of people from out of state,” said Todd Boechler, the Minot foreman of roads. “There’s been a lot of accidents and we’re trying to keep up with how we treat the roads.”

“It’s a mixture that we get from the (North Dakota Department of Transportation),” said Dan Jonasson, the Minot Public Works director. “The DOT has been using it for quite some time. We’ve been getting it to try it.”

The compound, officially referred to as an “agricultural-based liquid product” by the NDDOT, combines sugar beet by-product with salt-brine to better help it stick to roads longer and not blow off when temperatures get really low and winds gust.

“One of the benefits of it is that it stays on the roads a little longer, this salt brine solution,” Jonasson said. “Then it dries and stays on the pavement until it rains which re-activates it.”

When dry, the mixture may appear white as salt will collect at the surface, and this is fine. Rain and snow will wet the substance again, which will allow it to spread and melt winter road hazards.

“Traffic is good for the roads,” Boechler said. “It helps spread the liquid out.”

The substance compounding and becoming thick on the roads is a drawback to the system. The very stickiness of the beets used to help salt stick to the roads and keep it there will also stick to itself and get thick. This doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem, though, as the compound lasts a long time and is effective.

“It’s pretty much instantaneous; it doesn’t take too long” to melt ice and snow, Boechler said. “It’s just a matter of minutes.”

Road crews have been experimenting with adding sand to the mix to help with hilly roads and at intersections where more grab and grit is needed.

“We use one of our flusher trucks,” Jonasson said of how the mixture is applied. “It’s a water truck we use when we do our street sweeping.”

The flusher truck hasn’t seen much winter work before this new application. The juice is sprayed from tubes off the rear of the truck and the side hoses that are used for street flushing and cleaning are tapped off.

The system won’t replace traditional salt and sand dry spreads, because when snow is blowing across roadways it may clump together as it melts leading to “mushy conditions,” Jonasson said. “Salt and sand is better” for those situations, as well as adding additional grit where needed.

“It is a money-saver. For a thousand gallons of it we can cover several miles of roadway with it for about $300,” which is much less than the cost of traditional means, Jonasson said.