The Beet Goes on, Snow Comes off in Des Plaines
The City of Des Plaines uses a beet juice mixture to wet down streets before a heavy snowfall, which prevents the snow from tightly binding to the surface, public works employees said.
When it comes to clearing the roadways after a heavy snowfall, the large snowplows are the most obvious solution. But in many municipalities, including Des Plaines, assistance is being provided in a much more subtle way, one that is commonplace among experts, but you may not be aware of — beet juice.
In a process known as pre-wetting, a liquid mixture of beet juice and calcium chloride is applied to road surfaces to make snow removal more efficient, according to Tim Ridder, assistant director of public works and engineering in Des Plaines.
“What that does is it keeps the snow from binding to the pavement,” Ridder said. “The biggest issue with snow removal is snow binding to the pavement.”
The beet juice mixture was applied to the roadway before it snowed, when rain before the snow was not expected, Ridder said. By pre-wetting the surface, it caused a chemical reaction that lowered the freezing point of the snow and ice, he said.
“Two things it does: it keeps the snow from binding to the pavement, and it also gives us a little bit of time,” Ridder said. “We don’t have to worry about anything being really slick until we can get there with a plow and additional salt.”
Pre-wetting programs were used for more than 10 years, Ridder said, and some municipalities have even tried using molasses as an alternative. By using a pre-wetting mixture, Ridder said the amount of salt needed to remove the snow was reduced, which was better for soil.
“I can’t tell you how much less salt that we put, but I can tell you that we use less salt,” Ridder said. “The reason why we use less salt is because we don’t need as much to break that bond, the snow is not bound to the pavement.”
Public works applied the pre-wetting mixture to a specific list of areas including the S-curve on Northwest Highway and parking decks.
“We put it in areas like bridge overpasses, areas where we know it’s going to be slick,” Ridder said. “We get that out ahead of time.”