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Winter Maintenance and Effects Update

(Article from April 2011 eNews)
As regions across the United States braced for snow storm after snow storm this winter, transportation in areas typically unaccustomed and unprepared for these types of conditions came to a grinding halt, paralyzing some cities for days at a time. While most of these scenarios reflect emergency situations where large snow accumulation occurred in a short amount of time, they invite awareness as to how well transportation systems operate in regions that ARE accustomed to inclement weather and hazardous driving conditions on a regular basis during the winter season.
In the northern United States and Canada, snow and ice control operations are essential to ensure the safety, mobility and productivity of winter highways. Keeping roads clear of snow and ice is no small task, and the US spends $2.3 billion a year on winter maintenance.
Depending on the road weather scenarios, resources available and local rules of practice, departments of transportation (DOTs) use a combination of tools for winter road maintenance and engage in activities that include anti-icing, deicing, sanding and mechanical removal. As the detrimental environmental impacts of abrasives are generally greater than those of chemicals, DOTs have begun to minimize the use of abrasives. The increased use of chemicals, however, has raised growing concerns over their negative effects on motor vehicles, the transportation infrastructure, and the environment. Maintenance agencies are continually challenged to provide a high level of service and improve safety and mobility in a cost-effective manner, while minimizing corrosion and other adverse effects to the environment.
WTI’s Winter Maintenance and Effects (WME) program has worked very hard over the last seven years to understand and mitigate the effects of winter weather and corrosion on transportation systems and to address challenges and concerns through innovation and multi-disciplinary
partnerships. The program serves as a bridge between industry and academia and conducts problem driven research, emphasizing the development and evaluation of materials, technologies and systems to support winter maintenance best practices and decision making for sustainable transportation systems.
Dr. Xianming Shi, P.E., Principal Investigator for the WME program, and his WTI colleagues, have a unique opportunity to conduct comprehensive research in the WTI Corrosion and Sustainable Infrastructure Laboratory and the Montana State University Subzero Science and Engineering Research Facility, then test their results at TRANSCEND, WTI’s outdoor test track. TRANSCEND includes a state-of-the-art snow making system, which allows researchers to simulate winter conditions in a controlled field setting. The team has systematically evaluated the performance attributes and impacts of alternative deicers as well as traditional chloride-based deicers, under research sponsored by Colorado, Washington, and other state DOTs along with the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA).
The WME Program recently completed a pooled fund study on inhibitor longevity and deicer performance. The study was funded by eleven state DOTs (WA, ID, OR, MT, CO, IN, IO, MN, ND, UT, and VA), the U.S. DOT RITA, Redmond Minerals, America West, and Tetra Technologies, in order to evaluate the longevity and performance of corrosion inhibitors in deicing chemicals when in storage or on the road.
“The investigation of inhibitor longevity and deicer performance is very important to the multiple agencies and private entities which contributed to this project,” says Monty Mills, WSDOT Maintenance Operations Branch Manager. “This research is the first such comprehensive effort to quantify the benefits of corrosion inhibitors when added to common deicer products. The results of this research will help these agencies and others to determine how best to proceed in the purchase and application of inhibited products.”
Additionally, new research projects sponsored by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Oregon DOT, and Washington State DOT will develop locally sourced salt brine additives for anti-icing, understand and mitigate effects of chloride deicer exposure on concrete, and establish best-practice guidelines for protecting DOT equipment from deicer corrosion. Shi says, “Delivering the right type and amount of materials in the right place at the right time for snow and ice control is the ultimate goal. Our research helps to establish best practices that are expected to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of winter operations, to optimize material usage, and to reduce associated annual
spending and corrosion and environmental impacts.”
Contact WME program lead, Laura Fay for more information.