SHERIDAN — Motorists taking to the highways of northeast Wyoming this time of the year might catch a whiff of what smells like silage coming off of the road. The slight odor is likely indicative of an eco-friendly sugar beet de-icing system employed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
Since 2011, WYDOT has added sugar beet juice to salt brine to enhance the salt’s ice and snow cutting properties while offsetting some of its corrosive side effects. The cocktail is mixed in Sheridan and used on roads in Sheridan and Johnson counties.
WYDOT District Four Public Involvement Specialist Ronda Holwell likens the 70 percent salt, 30 percent beet juice solution to a non-stick coating for the road that keeps ice from forming on the road before a storm and melts snow and ice that’s already there.
“Adding brine when applying sanding material helps sand to stick to the roadway in the vehicle travel way, increasing friction for tire traction,” Holwell said. “Secondly, when applying brine directly to snow pack, it helps cut the ice quicker and re-establishes the highway surface to a ‘black’ condition.”
Holwell said the beet juice and salt solution will result in improved air quality and fewer environmental impacts compared to traditional road salt brine. The mixture can also be used at lower temperatures.
While sugar beet juice enhances the effectiveness of salt brine, Holwell said travelers should be mindful while driving on winter roads.
“Although WYDOT is constantly looking for more efficient ways to clear the road, and our crews are out there working hard to keep them clear, it is also the motorists job to drive cautiously, pay extra attention to signs and drive defensively,” Holwell said. “Remember to give snowplows plenty of room to work, don’t tailgate and try not to pass.”
WYDOT characterizes the use of de-icing agents on the road as a proactive mechanism that reduces some of the costs associated with snow and ice removal.
The beet juice employed for road maintenance is a natural byproduct of sugar beet production and is brown in color.