DECATUR — In the days immediately before winter weather strikes, Decatur residents might notice the major streets covered with 10 narrow, light lines in each lane.
The peculiar sight represents what workers say is one of the city’s most efficient and cost-effective tools in the fight against snowy and icy roads: salt brine. Two city trucks distribute the saltwater solution on bridges and primary streets as a sort of red-carpet welcome in the 72 hours before the arrival of snow, ice and even sleet.
The water in the solution spreads over the roadway, then evaporates, leaving behind salt that is intended to keep snow and ice from bonding with the pavement.
“If we’re going to get a 2-inch snowfall, brine will keep that snow from actually bonding and getting crusty on the street. When we spread salt on top of the snow, it actually has a melting effect from below and above,” said Dan Mendenall, the city’s streets and sewers supervisor.
The trucks began Tuesday and will continue today distributing the brine in preparation for anticipated winter weather headed to Central Illinois on Thursday.
The salt brine is only effective before snow arrives. Depending on the severity of the storm, city workers might spread rock salt during and after the precipitation falls.
There are 23 trucks capable of distributing the salt; only two trucks can spread the brine.
While the equipment to mix and distribute the salt brine can be expensive, the substance itself is more cost-effective than rock salt. The solution is 23.3 percent salt, and a gallon costs 23 cents to make and distribute.
“Salt needs water to activate, to make it actually work,” Mendenall said. “When we spray it down ... it becomes like a residue. Then, when it snows or we get a little ice or whatever, that moisture reactivates that salt for when it’s melting.”
Covering a mile of road takes 35 gallons, said foreman Rick Baker. It takes 350 gallons of the solution to cover all of the city’s bridges and 14,000 gallons to treat the primary streets.
The “primary streets” are those that also receive plowing and salt treatment during winter storms. They are identified in the city’s snow and ice plan, which is available under “public information” on the website at decaturil.gov.
The National Weather Service predicts a winter storm will strike the area Thursday.
Meteorologist Heather Stanley said Decatur could expect between 1 and 3 inches of snow by the evening but cautioned that the precipitation could turn to freezing rain, freezing drizzle and ice by the late night and early morning Friday.
“Right now, there’s a few unknowns, so the forecast is very dynamic at this point. It’s still changing,” she said.