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Winter Driving; What Are They Putting on Our Roads?

Have you ever noticed, especially when driving on snow or ice: if someone passes you he’s an idiot and if they’re going too slow and holding you up, they’re an a**hole? While most of us have to deal with snow and ice and that guy who slows you down, at least our road crews are trying to help.

Differing Opinions
Opinions are just like… the guy slowing you down, everybody has one. People complain if the roads are salted because of the corrosive properties that eat your car up. Others worry Mag Chloride will contaminate the rivers. Still others complain about sand because, well, because they can. No matter what your highway dept. uses someone will complain. Just be glad they use something because there are plenty of idiots and… guys who slow you down out there.

Road Salt

Road departments use a lot of road salt. They were actually running out of it in the Eastern United States last year because of the harsh winter and icy roads. They don’t use salt in Colorado and because of that a friend used to buy up old cars and ship them back east for big profits. Salt melts ice because salt water doesn’t freeze until it gets below zero. It does however corrode steel in automobiles and even the rebar used in bridges. It’s a tradeoff: it helps speed up that… guy who slows you down but wreaks havoc on your cars and bridges.

Sand is used on most roadways but usually in conjunction with road salt or mag- chloride along with other mixtures. Sand doesn’t melt the ice but gives you traction and grip. The use of sand requires a lot of cleanup and that would explain all the big street-sweepers you see that come out every spring along with the robins. It also tends to clog sewers and road drainage systems but does it in a natural, organic way.


Mag Chloride works by preventing the ice from bonding to the asphalt. Usually spread before the storm as an ant-icing agent it is used extensively in several states including Colorado. It is sometimes mixed with salt wetting it so it sticks better to the road surface. It has been extensively studied but the jury is still out. It does cause plant damage and stream pollution but is a very effective weapon against slippery roads, idiots and… guys who slow you down.

Have you ever peed on an ice patch? Well, if you have you know it melted the ice. Urea, which is a product contained in urine, is sometimes used on airport runways because it is less corrosive to airplane bodies: I kid you not. I’m not sure where they got it but it is mentioned in several reports on the internet so it must be true. There is also a substance made from the byproducts of sugar beet production called CMS-B or Motech being used in several areas. Though products like Motech derive from organic material, it contains Potassium Chloride which can cause eye, skin and gastrointestinal irritations.

A Life of Tradeoffs
Everything has a tradeoff. I don’t want anyone to suffer gastrointestinal irritations, I don’t want my car or bridges falling apart and I’m pretty sure we don’t want urea on our neighborhood roads. Maybe we just have to put up with the idiots and… guys who slow us down after all.

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