New de-icer should make highway safer 

A liquid chemical de-icer, that has cut accidents by 40 per cent in other areas, will be used on the Sea to Sky highway starting this week.

"(The magnesium chloride) will be in our yard ready for use," said Tom Cloutier, Capilano Highway Services manager for the south region.

On Saturday, Dec. 1 the highway was closed for several hours after an accident and heavy snowfall made the route treacherous north of Squamish.

Cloutier said, while the delays would probably still have been extensive if the liquid de-icer had been used, it’s likely it would have helped.

"If you have better road conditions as a result of it, or you have a shorter period of time when the compact snow is on the road, then you reduce the amount of time the road is actually slippery or has compact snow on it... then you could possible save a life," Cloutier said.

Kamloops, an ICBC test site for magnesium chloride, has proved it works.

"On any day that it actually snows in Kamloops we decrease the number of accidents by 40 per cent," said Graham Gilfillan, manager for ICBC’s material damage loss prevention program.

"There are now 43 municipalities in British Columbia, plus all of the highway contractors, involved in it."

Magnesium chloride, a chemical cousin of the usual road salt, can be used in two ways. It can be sprayed onto sand and salt as they are spread on the road, a process called pre-wetting. Or it can be used alone, commonly described as anti-icing.

It is a better ice-fighter than regular road salt, and a rust inhibitor added to the solution prevents vehicle and bridge corrosion.

Wetting the sand and salt with magnesium chloride allows the substances to stick better to the road or compact snow so they are less likely to be blown away by passing traffic and do not leech as quickly on to highway shoulders.

As an anti-icer the chemical must be sprayed on the pavement before a snow storm or just as the snow begins to fall.

It begins melting snow and ice immediately to prevent ice from bonding to the pavement.

This year the chemical will be used from West Vancouver to Pemberton as a pre-wetting agent, and as a de-icer from Function Junction to Alpine Meadows in Whistler.

Magnesium chloride has been used experimentally for the last three years in the Sea to Sky corridor. Last year it was used in West Vancouver as well.

It is a major improvement over regular salt and sand for several reasons, said Cloutier.

It works at much lower temperatures than salt, which is useless below about -5C. Magnesium chloride is effective to -22C.

And, magnesium chloride, which is a product of evaporation from the Great Salt Lake in Utah, can help prevent ice forming for up to five days.

It is also more environmentally friendly than regular road salt, which can leech into the roots and soil of roadside areas and become toxic.

In the early 1970s New Hampshire lost 14,000 trees along 3,700 miles of salt-treated highways because of toxic levels of road salt.

The Resort Municipality of Whistler will also continue using magnesium chloride on municipal roads, and has added de-icing capacity to its fleet of snow clearing trucks this year.

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