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St. Louis County set to roll out new anti-icing trucks

St. Louis County is preparing to roll out four new trucks to combat icy winter roads in the coming weeks. The trucks both pre-treat roads with a brine solution and apply salt during and after snow and ice events. The trucks came in at $300,000 each and figure to make better results for plowing and cut down on the amount of salt used. St. Louis County photo

A new paradigm for winter road treatment is coming to St. Louis County, with road maintenance crews gearing up to use new equipment and methods on some of the area's busiest roadways.

Four new trucks compatible with a new anti-icing system are coming online in the upcoming weeks.

The trucks feature plug-and-go chassis and will allow highway workers to swap out brine tanks with precision salt applicators.

The brine is used to pretreat roads before storms, and the system figures to reduce salt usage by up to 40 percent. The trucks came in at $300,000 each.

"It's pretty impressive," said Mike Fox, highway maintenance supervisor working out of the Public Works garage in Pike Lake. "They've got some cool abilities we're not able to achieve with the other kinds of sanders that we use."

For starters, the brine solution can be whipped up in bulk in about a half-hour and tailored with additives to the air and road surface temperatures. The solution is applied three to five days in advance of a forecast storm, said a St. Louis County news release. It prevents ice and snow from bonding to the road after it's been applied as a liquid and dries on the roadways. The treatment makes it easier for plows to clear away snow.

Fox likened it to oiling a pan before cooking.

"You start cooking and it keeps everything from sticking," he said.

The new trucks will be used first on the most heavily traveled county roads, including Arrowhead, Haines, Martin and Midway roads. As the rollout increases the trucks will be seen county-wide as needed.

Anticipation is high that the treatment will work well. It's been shown to work on the same road through multiple snow events.

"We're not recreating the wheel," Fox said. "This has been going on for years, but we've not had it here in St. Louis County. We'll start on a smaller scale and as we see results we're going to expand it from there."

Following the brine treatment, the new trucks will head out during and after plowing with the precision salt applicators, which aren't set in fixed positions and can be rotated up to 22 degrees to allow operators to put down material where it needs to be.

"In years past we've had to drive against traffic sometimes to get sand in certain spots," Fox said. "This does a much better jobs on corners and puts material where it needs to be."

The county is alerting residents to be keen to the brine application process — made notable by a 2,500-gallon white tank on the back of the yellow trucks.

"Motorists should avoid passing the truck when it is in operation to avoid getting the brine solution sprayed on vehicles," the county news release said.

The solution features additives which make it safe for cars, but it can be difficult to clean off vehicles — windshields, in particular.

The truck operators have the ability to turn off the application, which sprays 12 to 36 feet wide, when oncoming traffic is approaching the truck.

The trucks will have a sign on the back warning motorists not to pass.

Said Fox, "I'd say within the next couple weeks the general public will start seeing it on the roads."

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