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Michigan expands testing of salt water to clear winter highways

A Michigan "tow plow" carries tons of rock salt to combat icy and snowy roads.

Parts of Michigan have already seen snow. The Michigan Department of Transportation is gearing up for more.

One thing the agency will be doing is using a 23% saline solution, salt water instead of rock salt, on more roads. Last year, a pilot project in Montcalm County went well.

“We found out he could potentially save up to 40% salt and, you know, get the road cleared just as well as you would have and maybe sometimes even slightly better than with putting down rock salt,” said Mark Geib, administrator for the department’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations Division.

Lester Graham
The State of Michigan budgets $25 million and stocks up on 450 thousand tons of road salt for winter.

Since the state budgets about $25 million for road salt each winter, that could save a lot of money.

“We use about 450,000 tons of salt for a winter. So if we could cut that number down by 40%, that's that much less salt going into the environment,” Geib said.

Less salt running off the roads and into streams, lakes, and wetlands would be better for plants, fish, and other wildlife.

This winter, liquid salt will be used on stretches of M-43 near Grand Ledge, M-66 in Montcalm County, and M-20 near Mount Pleasant.

The department is working to find the right methods and the right equipment to eventually use liquid salt on all the highways.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report and previously hosted Stateside on Fridays. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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