Dighton tries using molasses for winter road treatment

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

The Dighton Highway Department this winter joined a growing list of communities that are adding molasses to rock salt for treating roads in winter weather.
The use of the sticky molasses prevents the salt from simply bouncing off the roads, thereby eliminating the need for sand, according to Highway Superintendent Thomas Ferry. He said he learned about the use of molasses from neighboring Somerset, which has been using it for a number of years.
“I embraced the concept because I didn’t have to equip my trucks with any new apparatus,” Ferry said. “I like the idea that we don’t have to convert all the trucks over.”
The molasses is sprayed over the road salt supply in the town’s salt barn, and includes the magnesium that is usually bought and added to road salt mixtures.
While the town’s salt usage appears to be the same or perhaps a little less than what the town usually used per mile, Ferry said the molasses has other benefits. The molasses results in a more even coat on roadways while eliminating the bounce-and-scatter problem of rock salt flying off the side of the road.
“Eliminating the [need for] sand is huge for your stormwater management, because it increases your capacity on all your catch basins,” he said. “And your street sweeping is going to get dramatically reduced.”
Dighton Selectman Nancy Goulart, a member of the MMA’s Policy Committee on Energy and the Environment, said the elimination of sand will help the town comply with the Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer System (MS4) permit, which will require municipalities to report both the amount of sand used in the winter and the amount of sand picked up in the spring.
The overuse of sand can pose a safety issue as well, Goulart said, creating slippery conditions on dry roadways at intersections and making it harder for vehicles to come to a stop.
In past years, Ferry would buy bulk magnesium to treat the town’s road salt. He said that the molasses-magnesium mixture is half the price of the bulk magnesium.
Goulart said that cost numbers are not available yet, but the Board of Selectmen expects the town’s overall costs to remain the same, if not decrease, due to the elimination of sand use.
Ferry and Goulart added that the molasses-magnesium-salt mixture is also an effective pretreatment for roads because it does not wash away as easily as traditional salt and sand, so it helps to keep roads clean for the next storm.
Goulart said residents have been complimenting the work done by the town this winter.
“People in Dighton pretty much say that you know when you leave Dighton and you know when you return because of the roads,” she said.