Ice Slicer looks like coarse sand, but what it does to roadways makes it an easy sell to Arizona Department of Transportation crews.
“This is the second year we’re using Ice Slicer,” said Dennis Johnson, highway maintenance tech III for the Arizona Department of Transportation. “We used cinders before. For years that’s all we used. But it got to the point that we couldn’t compete with the traveling public.”
Tractor-trailers traveling up Ash Fork hill and people speeding into ice or snow-covered roadways from lower altitudes have caused problems for years, Johnson said.
“We had trucks going up over the Ash Fork hill at 2 miles per hour (during the winter) — that caused a traffic problem,” he said. “Now we can treat the road and make it wet so they can travel through.”
Herman Mendoza, highway maintenance tech II for ADOT, said he’s been plowing the hill for years.
“I plow Ash Fork hill and I like it (Ice Slicer),” he said. “We used to have all sorts of tie-ups where they (18-wheelers) would be stuck there for hours.
“Now we very seldom have problems.”
ADOT has been fighting the problem of snow and ice on the road for years.
“Three years ago we removed trees in the median (to reduce ice buildup),” Johnson said.
Saving time and money are other reasons why ADOT crews like the Ice Slicer.
“The storms used to last three days and now it’s cleared up by the end of the shift,” said Mendoza, who has 21 years of experience working for ADOT in Williams.
Johnson used an example to show how well the deicer works.
“We ran out one night and the accident rate went up,” he said. “We had 18 slide-offs that night when we had none before.
“I would say it significantly decreases accidents. The DPS (Department of Public Safety) office said it’s a 28 percent drop.”
However, DPS doesn’t count slide-off accidents unless there is reportable damages, said Johnson, who has 23 years of experience with ADOT in Williams. Another advantage is that the deicer works in temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit. White salt will only melt ice at temperatures down to 17 degrees.
Since beginning to use the Ice Slicer two years ago, concerns have been raised by environmentalists about trees browning on the side of the roadways and the effect the Ice Slicer has on cars.
“Everybody wonders about the browning of the needles,” Johnson said. “That’s because of the lower temperature water that is being thrown on the trees. It’s (the water) still below zero degrees when it hits the trees.”
The Ice Slicer is a naturally occurring compound dug out of the ground in Utah that is composed of 92-98 percent complex chlorides (magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium chloride). The rest is a combination of sulphur, iron, phosphorous, iodine, zinc, copper and manganese.
“They take it straight out of the ground and they crush it,” Johnson said. “Ice Slicer is 70 percent less corrosive to steel and eight times less corrosive to galvanized steel than white salt.”
The Ice Slicer works by breaking the bond between the snow and the road.
“The trick is to get it down before the road freezes,” Johnson said. “Then every time you get four inches of snow, you can plow it to the side because there is nothing holding it to the pavement.”
The heaviest treatment a road will receive is 300 pounds per one 12-foot lane mile. Johnson said the ADOT drivers are the ones who decide when it’s time to reapply.
“Once you have a brine built, we reapply at 100 pounds to just sweeten it up,” he said. “It’s the driver’s discretion.”
Williams maintenance yard covers 558 snow miles with eight trucks. The crews work State Route 64 from Williams to the Grand Canyon National Park entrance, Interstate-40 from Ash Fork to Bellemont and 15 miles on US 180, starting at Valle.
“If we have a 50 percent chance of snow, we’re here,” Johnson said. “If we get it down while the snow flies, instead of beating on a patch of ice that normally would be there for three weeks, it’s gone.”
Since switching over to Ice Slicer, Williams maintenance yard has reduced the number of people and equipment it needs.
“We were going to need two more trucks and four more people,” Johnson said. “It cuts down on accidents and overtime quite a bit.”
Cinders are $28 a cubic yard or ton and the Ice Slicer is $69.
“It covers more area,” Johnson said. “It takes six to 10 loads of cinders compared to one or one and a half loads (of the Ice Slicer).
“We use to go through 27,000 cubic yards of cinders per year.”
Saving lives by reducing accidents is the biggest reason the Ice Slicer is being used.
“I’m like everybody else,” Johnson said. “I don’t like salt but I like what it does.”