Michigan could soon test organic additive to clear roads

December 17, 2020

Keith Goble

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With the official start of winter a few days away, a bill nearing passage at the Michigan statehouse addresses concern about the aftermath of winter on roadways and the vehicles that use the roads via an organic additive.

The Michigan Department of Transportation now uses mostly brine or salt to treat roadways and bridges to prevent the accumulation of ice and snow on roads, and to de-ice roads.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill to tap an organic additive to help control ice and snow on roadways and bridges in the state. Specifically, MDOT would be permitted to test the combination of sugar beets and road salts into a mixture described as “beet juice.”

Other Midwestern states that use sugar beets to help treat roads and highways include Kansas, Minnesota and Missouri. Additionally, municipalities in Michigan and elsewhere also utilize the product to help clear roads.

Answers sought

Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, says beet juice could help to address damage to Michigan’s infrastructure via potholes and damage to vehicles due to corroded parts. He adds that salt runoff negatively affects the environment.

“Salt works well to handle ice on roads, but it harms Michigan’s freshwater ecosystems,” Victory said in prior remarks. “On top of that, salt corrodes our roads and vehicles. Providing an alternative to salt-only de-icing will help with both of these problems.”

Critics say it is possible that sugar beet juice is not the answer. They share concern the mixture could have negative effects on streams and rivers.

Advocates add that the bill would also reduce costs to treat roads. They note that organic additives result in less salt being used and that less applications are necessary due to improved adherence to pavement. As a result, less product is needed and workers do not need to be on the clock for as many hours.

The state DOT testified in support of the bill.

Testing and timeline

Testing of the beet-salt mixture would be done in at least three locations that include public roads, highways, and bridges. Effects on pollution in lakes, rivers, and groundwater would be included.

A final report would be submitted by MDOT to the House and Senate transportation committees by June 2025. A determination would then be made whether to pursue a statewide authorization of the mixture to treat roads.

The bill, SB379, now moves to the House floor for consideration. If approved there, it would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before going to the governor. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Michigan is available.

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.