State unveils new brine maker to fight highway ice, snow

SAGAMORE — Following the lead of counterparts across New England and in most of the country’s snowier climes, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation this afternoon unveiled its first salt brine production plant to produce anti-icing liquid for the state’s highways.

The $160,000 BrineXtreme — not counting the price of a 4,000-gallon tanker truck, storage tanks, and other infrastructure and paraphernalia — can churn out more than 6,000 gallons of brine an hour. That liquid, when applied to roads, prevents snow and ice from freezing to the pavement and allows the state to dump less rock salt.

With conventional treatment, the state dumps 240 pounds of rock salt every time it passes over one mile of highway lane — meaning one ton to cover a mile of four-lane highway in each direction — but it uses only about one-third as much salt to make the brine covering the same area, said Paul Brown, director of the snow and ice program for MassDOT’s Highway Division. That’s because the brine doesn’t bounce and scatter the way rock salt does.


It can also be applied as much as three days in advance, allowing the state to cut down on overtime when deploying road crews, Brown said. The brine-maker, the tanker truck for delivery, and improvements at the state’s Sagamore highway barn combined cost less than $400,000, meaning it should pay for itself in two or three winters, officials said.

Highway crews will use the liquid at first only in Southeastern Massachusetts, but the department will likely add a couple of other brine makers around the state in the next few years, said Secretary of Transportation Richard A. Davey, calling the equipment an embodiment “of everything that we’re doing at MassDOT reducing our cost and improving the customer experience.’’

With its touchscreen operating panels, large stainless steel salt hopper, array of pipes, and network of storage tanks, the BrineXtreme looks like a 21st-century whiskey still — a distinction not lost on the secretary. “It does look like a homemade moonshine, by the way, operation,’’ he said, navigating around the five-ton-capacity salt hopper.

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