DOT to reduce road brine use this winter, amid public and borough calls for end to brine
A petition signed by more than 5,000 Kenai Peninsula residents is calling on the Alaska Department of Transportation to stop its use of salt brine on peninsula roads. In a public meeting last week, dozens of residents reaffirmed that position. DOT is preparing to roll back the use of the substance this winter, but not remove it entirely.
To a packed Borough Assembly chamber room last Wednesday night, residents, auto workers and legislators called for an end to the use of sodium chloride brine on peninsula roads. Borough Mayor Peter Micciche hosted the meeting, and Department of Transportation Commissioner Ryan Anderson attended, along with the department’s Legislative Liaison Andy Mills.
Following the petition, which began in March, lawmakers have weighed in with letters, and last week the borough assembly passed a resolution, asking DOT to completely cease use of salt brine on its roadways. Over two hours of testimony Wednesday, more than 30 people told DOT administrators the same. They spoke about their experiences with vehicle corrosion and slippery roads, and asked for an alternative deicing method.
“When we’re seeing this much corrosion, it’s changing the way that these vehicles are responding in car accidents. So I hope today that we can come to an agreement to change what’s being applied, or how it’s being applied, because the rust that we’re seeing on the roads today , on the vehicles today, is only going to get worse,” said Wesley Jackson, whose family owns Outlaw Body and Paint on K-Beach.
He’s one of several industry professionals who described unsafe impacts on vehicles they say is a result of the brine. Laura Maciariello, a FedEx driver for 35 years, said the brine has done damage to the company’s local fleet.
“We’ve always had running boards on our trucks, and it wasn’t until they started putting the brine down…we’ve got three trucks right now that don’t have running boards on them because they’ve rotted off, they’ve rusted off,” she said.
Commissioner Anderson said DOT’s next steps will include doing expedited research about the brine, and providing updated training for maintenance staff. For this upcoming winter, he said DOT has ordered extra sand to offset a reduction in brine, but the department is still working out specifically how it will and won’t use the substance.
“We’re also looking at reducing the usage, and only using it on certain roads this winter,” Anderson said. “This is something that — we’re going to need about a week to get this fleshed out in terms of which roads, but one thing that I think would be prudent at this point is there could be a road or two where we won’t use it, and people can see how it looks.”
However, Anderson explained, to completely cut out use of brine this winter would require major equipment and training changes not possible on this timeline.
In an interview Monday, Andy Mills said the roads where DOT will reduce brine use are slower-speed roads, and for this season at least, they’ll stick with the brine in high-speed areas.
“And that’s because if you’re gonna put sand and salt down, higher speed traffic can kick that off the road, or can result in more that getting kicked up,” he said. “So our higher speed roads can tend to be where you will want to have bare pavement where possible in the winter time.”
Mills said the town hall is emblematic of the department’s commitment to public input.
“We do work for the public, and we want to hear what folks have to say about the strategies that we’re using,” he said. “And if they disagree with those strategies, it’s incumbent upon us to listen and say ‘well here’s an alternative, here's this it would cost, here's the time it takes to implement it."'
DOT officials say they’ll observe the relative impacts of the roads with and without brine this winter. You can watch the full meeting here.