Holyoke DPW puts science to work when treating winter roads - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Holyoke DPW puts science to work when treating winter roads

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(Western Mass News photo) (Western Mass News photo)

Winter weather can wreck havoc on area roadways - from the snow and ice, plowing, to sand and salt.

However, one local department of public works is using science to save money in their battle against Mother Nature. 

Each winter, school kids hope for the winter weather that motorists dread.

"Cold, ice, everything else...it's just a pain in the rear," said Nelson Pinette of Springfield.

"I hate it, it's awful, it's really scary for me, especially the sliding," added Dalton Ashwell of Agawam.

We've only had about 12 inches of snow this year, but it was enough to cause some major headaches on the roads.

After years of using dry salt to stay ahead of the snow, Holyoke Department of Public Works Superintendent Bill Fuqua wanted to improve their methods.

"We'd go out on a dry road before a storm, put the dry salt down in anticipation of that storm, 70 percent of the material blows off the road," Fuqua explained.

The city now uses a simple and effective way to take care of their roads before the snow arrives.

"We've been using a salt brine solution as pre-treatment on our roads for the last three to four years, moreso in the last year," Fuqua said.

By having the pre-treatment on the roads, the clean up during and after a storm is much faster than if they just used plain rock salt.

"You're probably looking at ten times the amount in material and effort to melt the snow from the top down.  When the snow and ice hit the road, it doesn't form a bond to the pavement and create an icy build up that's difficult for motorists to drive on and difficult to clean up," Fuqua added.

Crews make their own salt-brine solution on-site - 1,000 gallons at a time.

"We dump a bunch of salt with a couple bars underneath that the water comes out of and rises through and we just circulate it around and it makes salt water," Fuqua said.

Depending on the content of salt in the solution, the freezing point can be lowered to just two degrees Fahrenheit.  The normal freezing point of water is 32 degrees.

"By keeping it in a liquid state, it allows us to clear it away, plow it off the road, melt it, and have it go to the drains versus have it form a slippery ice surface that's hard to drive on or walk on," Fuqua explained.

The science behind salt-brine's effectiveness is rooted in chemistry, something Fuqua knows all about.  He graduated with a degree in chemistry.

"We've also started experimenting this year with a magnesium chloride solution that's more environmentally friendly. We're using that on a couple areas, couple of streets that require some sensitivity for nearby wetlands," Fuqua added.

There is only truck in the Holyoke DPW fleet that does the pre-treatment and its value can't simply be measured in dollars and cents.

"By pre-treating some of the major roads, it gives them a lot of cushion to respond to the unexpected that occurs sometimes at the start of an operation," Fuqua noted.

Time and money are just a few of the benefits to Holyoke's pre-treatment solution.  Even with the improved efficiency, Fuqua isn't touching his rainy day funds.

"Years past, we have had a quiet January and snowy February, so I'm not counting my savings just yet.  Every day, we are one day closer to April," Fuqua added.

You can create your own chemical solution to defrost your car's windows.  All you'll need is a spray bottle, some water, and isopropyl alcohol. 

Check how to make that solution by checking out Jacob's video on our Facebook page!

Copyright 2016 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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