Beet Juice on the Road

  • The new de-icing product, GeoMelt, would use less salt than other methods of de-icing roads. (Photo by Lester Graham)

There’s been rising concern in recent years over the environmental impact of
road salt. The salt helps melt ice on the roads, but it corrodes cars and
damages bridges and concrete. Now, there’s a new way to help de-ice
roadways, and it comes from sugar beets. Dustin Dwyer reports:

Transcript

There’s been rising concern in recent years over the environmental impact of
road salt. The salt helps melt ice on the roads, but it corrodes cars and
damages bridges and concrete. Now, there’s a new way to help de-ice
roadways, and it comes from sugar beets. Dustin Dwyer reports:


The product is called GeoMelt, and it mixes with a salt brine to drop the freezing point
along roads. This method uses less salt than the traditional way of de-icing roads.


Chris Duffy is a GeoMelt salesman. He says it’s essentially de-sugared sugar beet
molasses. And it doesn’t require any new chemical processes:


“It’s considered a co-product of the sugar process. And, you know, what they were using
it for was a cattle feed. And we just have come up with a different use for it.”


GeoMelt also helps cut the amount of salt washing onto farmland where it can ruin crops.
Duffy says thousands of cities in every northern state are now using the sugar beet-based
product.


For the Environment Report, I’m Dustin Dwyer.

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Transportation or Trees? A Highway Runs Through It

If you compare a ten-year-old map of any urban city in North America with a recent one, you’ll notice that almost all of our major cities are getting bigger. That means more suburbs, more cars, and according to traditional ways of thinking, the need for more roads. But is road building the solution? Or is it part of the problem? The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Victoria Fenner takes us to a place where the debate has been going on for half a century. As she reports, not everybody agrees that the debate is settled:

Transcript

If you compare a ten year old map of any urban city in North America with a recent one,
you’ll notice that almost all of our major cities are getting bigger. That means more
suburbs, more cars, and according to traditional ways of thinking, the need for more roads.
But is road building the solution? Or is it part of the problem? Victoria Fenner takes us to
a place where the debate has been going on for half a century. As she reports, not everybody
agrees that the debate is settled:


On this sunny morning, a hawk sits in watch high atop a power line in the Red Hill Valley in
Hamilton. It gazes down over the valley – 1600 acres in the middle of this gritty industrial
steel town on the western tip of Lake Ontario. And soon, if the current city council has its
way, the hawk will be looking down on an expressway.


This is a story that happens over and over again in communities throughout North America.
This expressway plan in Hamilton has been on and off again for fifty years. It has polarized
the community, and with a municipal election happening soon, decision day for the valley is
looming. If a pro-expressway council is elected, it will go ahead.


Don McLean is with the Friends of Red Hill Valley, an organization that has been mobilizing
opposition to the freeway plan since 1991. He explains why he doesn’t want the expressway.


“The Red Hill Valley is potentially the largest urban park in Canada, and the expressway proposal
comes right down the middle of it, takes down twenty five percent of its forest and so on. There is
a large creek running through it that drains half the urban area of Hamilton. It has twenty four
species of fish that have been recorded since 1995. It’s quite an interesting place because it’s
completely surrounded, really, by urban area.”


But other people say there are also good arguments why the freeway should be built. Larry
Dianni is running for mayor and is building his whole campaign around this single issue. He
says he sees no other options, especially since parts of the freeway have already been built.


“This has been a project that has been fifty plus years in the making, and of course people have
now turned it around to say this is a fifty year old solution to current problems. Wrong. This is an
overdue solution to problems that manifested themselves fifty-four years ago, and by virtue of
ignoring them, the problems have gotten worse.”


The problems Larry Dianni is referring to are all about economic growth. His arguments for
the expressway are not a lot different from other cities across North America. He says as
more people and businesses move into the area, the road is necessary to accommodate
increasing traffic.


But Don McLean says this is outmoded thinking.


“There are good studies now in the U.S., and this has been understood in Europe for a long time,
that building more roads mainly results in generating more traffic. It does not address congestion
issues, it actually increases them because it encourages more driving and it encourages people to
move further and further away from their destinations.”


Don McLean’s position is one shared by the Sierra Club of Canada. The Sierra Club
recently published a major report called “Sprawl Hurts Us All.” Janet Pelley, the report’s
author, has heard the full range of the debate on both sides of the border. She is an
environmental journalist who recently moved to Canada from the U.S.


“The fact that you see on both sides of the border that there are these battles over freeways that
have been going on for fifty years just shows it’s an outmoded way of thinking, that the
government hasn’t caught up with the new smart growth initiatives and the new ways people are
looking at cities.”


The bottom line, Janet Pelley says, is we’re too dependent on motorized traffic. She says we
have to find ways of reducing our dependency on our cars.


“If you’re assuming people have to have cars, then you’re going to be sucked into that whole “car
junkie” habit of “we have to have more freeways to get people to move around. It’s really key
how you build your city. If you build your city for pedestrians and for public transit then you don’t
have to worry about the car traffic.”


It’s a story that is repeated over and over again as communities such as Hamilton try to
balance economic growth with environmental responsibility. In Hamilton, it’s still not a
foregone conclusion whether or not the freeway will proceed. November’s municipal
election is shaping up to be a single issue campaign, with pro-expressway and anti-
expressway candidates staking their political future on the issue. Whether or not this will
settle the matter is another question. With many sides to this story, this is an issue that
many communities will be wrestling with for a long time to come.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Victoria Fenner.

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Traffic Jams Waste Billions of Gallons of Fuel

Drivers are spending more time and burning more fuel stuck in traffic. An annual study found the upward trend of more traffic congestion continues. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Drivers are spending more time and burning more fuel stuck in traffic. An annual study found the
upward trend of more traffic congestion continues. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham reports:


The latest report looks at 2001. It found that about half of the time we spend in traffic jams is due
to delays caused by accidents, vehicle breakdowns, weather and construction. But researchers at
the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A and M University found that people are driving
farther to work and they’re also making more trips. Instead of combining trips to the bank, the
grocery store and the cleaners, more and more drivers tend to make separate trips, putting more
cars on the road at a time. David Schrank is one of the researchers. He says it ends up being a
huge waste of fuel.


“In 2001, almost five-point-seven billion gallons of fuel — that’s with a ‘b’– were wasted in
traffic congestion in 75 urban areas in the United States.”


And the study estimates we all spent more time, three-and-a-half billion hours, stuck in traffic
during the year.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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Driving Blamed for Increase in Ozone Action Days

In the last ten years, some cities in the region have seen an increase in the number of days on which the air was considered unhealthy. And according to a recent report, much of the blame should be placed on air pollution from cars and trucks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has more:

Transcript

In the last ten years, some cities in the region have seen an increase in the number of days on
which the air was considered unhealthy. And according to a recent report, much of the blame
should be placed on air pollution from cars and trucks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Mark Brush has more:


In its report, the Surface Transportation Policy Project highlighted research showing links
between transportation-related air pollution and increased asthma rates, and increased cancer risk.


Jim Corliss is one of the report’s co-author’s. He says progress has been made in cleaning up the
nation’s air, but that there’s still more to be done about pollution from vehicles.


“The increase in driving, the explosion in the number of miles people drive every day and every
year has really undermined a lot of the progress that we’ve made in cleaner engines.”


Corliss says that the increase in the number of miles driven is largely due to the way communities
are designed. He says urban sprawl has led to large increases in the number of miles driven for
everyday errands.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.

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Voluntary Toll Lanes to Help Traffic Flow?

Transportation experts say new toll lanes are needed to relieve traffic congestion around major cities. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Transportation experts say new toll lanes are needed to relieve traffic congestion around
major cities. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham:


The experts say it would be a market-based solution. If you want to avoid heavy traffic,
you can pull your car into a voluntary toll lane and pay for the privilege of going faster.
Rob Atkinson is with Progressive Policy Institute, and is one of the experts who testified
before a congressional committee about the idea.


“You would expand those highways and add a couple lanes in each direction, but those
lanes would be tolled. So if you don’t want to pay the toll, you can just stay in the regular
lanes and actually you’d be a lot better off because there’d be people who would move from
those lanes – the free lanes – over to the tolled lanes. So it’s sort of one of those win-win
situations.”


Atkinson says gasoline taxes and other fees don’t pay the full cost of roads, so an alternative
such as voluntary toll lanes would help get closer to paying the actual cost of commuting.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

A Road Salt Substitute?

  • Road salt spread on the streets of Ann Arbor, MI has a corrosive effect on this sewer grate. Many cities and states are looking for a less damaging, and more environmentally sensitive alternative to road salt.

With winter officially arriving, many towns and cities in the Midwest are preparing to fight the snow and ice that can make roads slippery and dangerous. That traditionally means spreading salt, but salt is damaging to the environment, so there is a growing movement toward using less corrosive and polluting means to make streets safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:

Transcript

With winter officially arriving, many towns and cities in the Great Lakes Region are preparing to fight the snow and ice that can make roads slippery and dangerous. That traditionally means spreading salt. But salt is damaging to the environment. So there is a growing movement toward using less corrosive and polluting means to make streets safe. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jonathan Ahl reports:


Rock salt and calcium chloride have been the workhorses of snow removal for many years. Together, they help lower the freezing temperature of snow and slush, making it easier for the snow to be plowed away or worn down by cars before it turns into ice. But along with the good has come a great deal of bad. Besides keeping our streets clear, both chemicals can also pollute nearby waterways. They release chlorides and heavy metals into the environment and their corrosiveness can damage roadways, causing cracking and even potholes. So governments have been trying to find alternatives that can help remove the snow, and do less damage. Among those alternatives are snow and ice melters made of corn by-products. Ari Adler is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation. He says the department is in the second year of testing those alternatives:


“In Michigan, what we’re doing is we’re actually applying this material by itself, preferably before a snowstorm hits. So it sort of puts like a Teflon coating on and what it does is not allow the snow and ice to bond with the pavement. So its certainly easier to clear away just from people driving over it or if we send a plow, it’s going to clear up quicker than if we had to send a team of plows out after we get snow pack out there.”


Adler says the tests so far have been very encouraging, and his agency plans to increase the use of such products in the future. Manufacturers of corn and soybean based de-icers say there is a growing trend to look to these more natural products. Craig Phelps is with Natural Solutions, a company that makes a product called Ice Ban. It’s made from parts of a cornstalk that are not used for food. The result is a liquid that melts ice and snow even at very low temperatures. Phelps says the product can be used alone, or in combination with salt. He says when used in combination, the product reduces the amount of salt required to keep roads clear:


“The way to decrease the effective use of chlorides is to somehow increase their performance or increase their range of activity. Using a liquid in combination with a granular, dry salt can help. Most highway departments have found they use less salt, so that does decrease the amount of accumulated chlorides in the environment.”


Phelps says the biggest obstacle in getting cities and states to use corn based de icers is the added cost. But he says in addition to the environmental benefits, corn based de-icers will reduce wear and tear on streets, bridges, and cars because it does not have the corrosive effect of salt. Phelps says if those costs are taken into consideration, the corn based products are actually cheaper than salt. But not everyone believes that is true. Dave McKinney is the Operations Director for the City of Peoria, Illinois’ Public Works Department. He says using salt is not a major cause for street repairs in midwestern cities:


“The problem we are having with streets isn’t so much the salt as it is the wear and tear of the freeze-thaw. So yes, there are these benefits, but I don’t think it can offset the cost. Certainly not in my budget.”


McKinney says he has tested the corn-based products, and is satisfied that they work well. But he says Peoria will only use them if the price comes down. And there may be evidence that will happen. The market for corn and soybean based de-icing products has increased by a thousand percent over the past seven years, largely because producers are finding cheaper ways to make the products. And as demand continues to increase, manufacturers say the price will keep dropping. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jonathan Ahl.