Road Crews Prepare For More Winter Weather -- With Brine | KERA News

Road Crews Prepare For More Winter Weather -- With Brine

Feb 24, 2015

With ice in the rear-view mirror and snow arriving Wednesday morning, North Texas road crews are gearing up for another round of winter. Three big techniques help make roads passable: chemicals, “brine” and the old standby -- sand.

The newest kid on the North Texas block of icy roads is brine – salt water, now used by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

“I have long accused the crews of coming up with this new technique simply to perfect their thanksgiving recipes. They object but not heartily,” says Michael Rey with the NTTA.

He says this brine’s a precise mix of 23 percent salt from Grand Saline, Texas, and water.

The NTTA's Michael Rey holds a bag of magnesium chloride and sand/dirt that goes on icy roads to melt the ice and offer traction
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

“It’s old school,” Rey says. “It’s new to us, but anyone listening in the northeast would laugh at us, because it’s long been used all over the country. But around here, we thought we didn’t’ have a need for it.”

The NTTA has rethought that. The “Brine Master” is Jason Skidmore, a maintenance supervisor, who learned the technique last year from the Texas Department of Transportation.  

“These are our 6,000-gallon storage tanks that we actually make brine, keep them full,” Skidmore says. “That way, when our trucks roll in here, all they got to do is fill it up and just continuously make more and keep them full.”

Crews pumped brine into tank trucks ahead of the predicted snowfall.  But the brine won’t be sprayed unless the snow sticks, packs and turns to ice. Before that, plows clear the roads, then trucks with a mechanical spreader lay down sand and a mix with magnesium chloride – MD20 -- to melt the ice and give cars traction.

Twenty miles south of NTTA’s operation, Dallas crews load sand and salt into trucks to throw down on city streets when snow falls. Supervisor Anselmo Lopez was ready, but says things could be worse.

“It’ll be snowing but it won’t be cold enough to freeze,” Anselmo says.

When do the crews come in?

“They come in at midnight. Twelve hours. 12 to 12,” Anselmo says.  

That means crews will try to get sleep whenever they can. Eight-year driver Thomas Bush finished his shift at 5:30 Tuesday evening, knowing he would be  back at midnight.

“It’s pretty hard on the drivers because we’re non-stop,” Bush says. “We got to keep rolling; we got to make it safe.”

Thomas Bush drives a city truck that sands and salts downtown Dallas. "When they say stay home, stay home!"
Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News

Bush said he’d be fine. But what’s unsafe are drivers who don’t know how to handle ice and snow, even if they think they just learned how over the past few days.  

“When they say 'stay home,' stay home,” Bush says.