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Local News

When those lines on the street appear, winter de-icing is under way

Myster solved. The dark lines that have appeared on local streets lately are sign of new techniques Flossmoor and Homewood crews are using to keep streets clear during the winter months.


No, they’re not the suburban equivalent of crop circles.

The past few winters, however, the mysterious lines on local streets have appeared repeatedly in the H-F area.

As it turns out, the lines are not related to extraterrestrial activity, or anything remotely eerie. But they do have something to do with beet juice.

Lines on Polly Lane in Flossmoor before the start of Wednesday’s snowstorm.
(Patty Houlihan)

When the lines appear on streets, it’s a good sign that a winter storm is on the way and public works crews in Homewood and Flossmoor are applying a de-icer compound.

Public works directors in both towns praised the de-icing process, which has been in place for the last three years. Applying a brine solution to streets before a storm prepares the pavement so that it’s easier to remove ice and snow. And it has also meant a reduction on the amount of salt that needs to be purchased.

Homewood’s de-icing truck can handle three lanes at a time.
(Tom Houlihan/H-F Chronicle)

Homewood has a truck that’s dedicated to de-icing during the cold-weather months. Public Works Director John Schaefer said the truck has an 1,800-gallon tank and can cover the entire town in one day. It takes 40 to 50 gallons of de-icer to cover one mile of pavement, he said. 

“We do side streets first and save the main routes like 183rd Street for last,” he said. “We want to make sure that the brine will be working on the most-heavily-traveled streets.”

The truck can apply the de-icing solution to three lanes at once, including turning lanes, he said.

John Brunke, Flossmoor’s public works director, said communities in Illinois are being encouraged to use less salt and explained that the village’s de-icer, ThermaPoint R, contains liquid calcium chloride and organic liquids like beet juice.

Flossmoor uses two different truck applicators, one with a gravity-fed spreader valve and another with a spray system, Brunke said.

“We apply (the de-icer) before storm events to pre-treat the pavement to keep snow from sticking and bonding to the pavement,” he said. The de-icer also prevents ice and snow from building up, which makes plowing easier.

In both towns, the brine solution is also used to pre-wet salt when it’s spread from other trucks. That keeps the salt from bouncing and helps it stick to the pavement. It also helps the salt to start working more quickly, Brunke said.

Schaefer said Homewood has reduced its salt consumption by 30 percent since the brine de-icing system was introduced. There has been a similar reduction in Flossmoor.

In recent years, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has been pressing villages and cities to cut back on the amount of salt used in winter months. The IEPA wants less salt so that fewer chlorides enter the state’s regional waterways.

“Any time you put salt in water, it dissolves. But it really never goes away,” Schaefer said. “We’ve got to use less salt to protect our groundwater and drinking water.”

Homewood makes its own de-icing solution at the village’s public works facility. First a brine is created using salt and water. The brine solution is 23 1/2 percent salt. After that, the brine is mixed with an organic substance. Beet juice is sometimes used but so are other organic materials. Schaefer said sugar in the organic material helps the de-icer to bond with the pavement.

If temperatures are below 15 degrees, calcium chloride is added to the de-icer. 

The de-icing process works well in a number of ways, Brunke said.

“One is that we don’t have to come out as quick on smaller snow events because the liquid helps to melt the snow at the beginning of a storm,” he said. “This saves us money on callouts and hours on equipment. Second, it helps to keep the snow from bonding to the street and creating a snow pack. Third, it works much better at breaking up ice dams when we get them. Fourth, it has helped us reduce our salt needed for each season.”


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