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Don’t Be Salty: Transportation Crews Apply Brine To Keep Ga. Roads Safe

Tom Tomai crosses snow-covered Peachtree Street after arriving Wednesday to Atlanta from New Hampshire. Department of Transportation crews use a salt brine on roads to make it easier for crews to go back and clear the ice and snow.
Tom Tomai crosses snow-covered Peachtree Street after arriving Wednesday to Atlanta from New Hampshire. Department of Transportation crews use a salt brine on roads to make it easier for crews to go back and clear the ice and snow.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

If you were out driving before the winter weather hit Tuesday, there is a chance you saw Department of Transportation trucks with tanks spitting out brine onto the road.

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Brine is a mixture of rock salt and water that acts as a deterrent to keep roads from freezing over.

So, how does it work?

“Think of it as oil in a frying pan,” said Benjie Schonerock, a product manager at VariTech Industries, a salt brine manufacturer in Minnesota.

You would put oil in the pan to keep food from sticking.

“That layer of salt brine will prevent the bond onto the highway,” he said.

Schonerock said the brine makes it easier for road crews to clear the ice and snow.

“When they go back out later in the day as the precipitation starts to fall, they can hit it with the plow and get down to bare pavement quicker,” he said.

The salt brine works best when pavement temperatures are above 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Schonerock said brine is usually the go-to treatment because it’s cheap. He said it usually costs about 10 to 15 cents per gallon to make.

Scott Higley, with the Georgia Department of Transportation, said state transportation crews also use other mixtures depending on conditions. But, they’re all salt-based.

“What we see in the overall impact is much better when we pre-treat the roads and then we go back over the roads,” Higley said. “Particularly, the trouble spots that we see with the calcium chloride and a salt mixture.”

Higley said, depending on conditions, they may even add gravel to the salt mixture.

He said GDOT crews are responsible for treating close to 13,000 miles of roads statewide.

There are some 20,000 tons of salt available for use in metro Atlanta.

Salt brine does come with some negative side effects. It can get into the underbody of cars and cause rusting. Schonerock said if you wash your car once a week or after driving through it, it should be fine.

The salt mixture is also easier on the environment since it’s a pre-mixed solution. Not enough of it is used throughout the state to have a serious environmental impact.