Sugar beets are now making the state Thruway a sweet ride during the winter.
The root vegetable grown in the Midwest and responsible for producing around 40 percent of the sugar used in the United States is being used extensively to keep ice from developing on the 570-mile expanse of the superhighway. Thruway Authority crews use sugar beet juice mixed with a salt brine to treat the surface before winter weather events and then to moisten road salt before it is sprinkled on the highway.
Now in its fourth year of use by the authority, the beet juice helps drastically reduce the amount of road salt needed to keep the road surface from accumulating ice or snow. This helps reduce the cost of maintaining a safe road surface during the state’s sometimes brutal winters, and helps lower the amount of salt passing into ground water located around the Thruway.
“Using the beet brine mixture to pre-treat roadways is just one example of how the Thruway Authority maintains one of America’s safest and most reliable superhighways even as we find new and better ways to control costs,” said Howard Milstein, the authority’s chairman.
Winter maintenance on the Thruway requires more than 600 workers and 200 large plow trucks. Combating inclement weather requires an estimated 180,000 tons of rock salt, including 50,000 tons pretreated with the beet juice.
The treatment applied to the highway before a storm is 80 percent salt brine and 20 percent beet juice. By applying the mixture in advance of ice or snow, workers can ensure the salt they apply to the surface is more effective.
“Rock salt doesn’t work below 15 degrees Fahrenheit,” explained Jay Walerstein, the vice president of sales and marketing for Road Solutions, the Indiana-based business that sells the beet juice solution to New York. “And it works slowly at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so by the time [the salt] starts to do its job, ice and hard pack has already formed.”
The beet juice is a byproduct of the sugaring process. Brown in color, the liquid has carbohydrates that help prevent the ice from forming a bond to road surfaces.
Many communities and state agencies started using similar products around the same time as New York. The state Department of Transportation has also used the solution for about three years.
Walerstein said the beet brine solution can help reduce the corrosive effect road salt has on vehicles by upward of 50 percent. In addition, the juice can reduce the amount of salt used per lane mile by nearly 40 percent.
“They really are getting far better road service for the state at tremendously reduced price,” he said.