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Albany to replace road salt with brine as winter approaches

Kathy Sheehan announces brine for streets
WAMC.org
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Ashley Hupfl
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announces brine for streets

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan announced new infrastructure initiatives to help preserve city streets and better protect the environment on Monday.

Localities across the country have been moving away from road salt, which can damage roads and lead to toxic runoff. Mayor Sheehan says the city will begin to use brine instead of salt crystals to melt snow and ice, which she says will save the city money and is better for the environment. The brine can also be applied up to 48 hours in advance – in fact, it works better when applied in advance. Typically, rock salt is applied the day of a winter storm.

Sheehan, a Democrat running for a third term, says Albany is the first city in the Capital Region to turn to brine.

“Not only will the use of brine make our streets safer during inclement weather but they're going to mitigate the environmental concerns of using salt," she said.

The use of brine has been criticized in the past when it includes toxic waste from hydraulic fracturing. Then-Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning the use of brine containing fracking waste last year.

Department of General Services Commissioner Sergio Panunzio says Albany will be making its own brine.

“We're actually making it in-house, in our shop. It's water and salt and it's a combination of bringing the liquid to a 7.5 alkaline which is then considered a brine and then supplied with sprayers," he said.

Critics also have concerns that brine rusts cars more than salt crystals. Panunzio says there is no conclusive evidence.

“The jury's still out on that. Actually, rock salt is worst on metal. The research that was done for so many years in other states - it really doesn't seem to be an affirmative on that and it's just as a salt condition, brine is just a lot more environmental friendly then rock salt," Panunzio said.

DGS has also begun a trial of using micro-surfacing on three city streets. This includes laying a treatment on top of the existing surface to help protect and extend the life of asphalt surfaces. Panunzio says the new technology seals the road and actually helps prevent future potholes.

“As everyone knows, in the last 10 years there have been changes to our blacktop because of environmental concern. A lot of the oils were taken out and the roads are not lasting as they used to. So today, we're proud to show these three streets. And by the way, it's only 25 percent of the cost of resurfacing a whole street," he said.

He added the new technology reduces the use of materials by half and helps the city’s carbon footprint, since there are fewer trucks and an average of six to eight years of additional life for the asphalt.

The city also says workers have begun a program called “Roadbotics.” As they drive, a smartphone mounted on their dashboard helps make a 3D map to monitor the surface of the streets and flag if any repairs are needed. So far, they have mapped about half of the city’s streets.

Roadbotics Regional Sales Director Ronald Judd says the company has extended its contract not only with Albany, but the entire Capital Region.

“It gives us a view into the future and predictability about what roads might fail in the future and how to be more preventative about those and keeps that in a cloud-based environment, so it's all software driven," Judd said.

Sheehan said the new initiatives mark the completion of the city’s goal to revitalize nearly 50 streets in the city with the $6 million included in the 2021 budget.