Steamboat Springs With snow and cold setting in and showing no signs of letting up, the Colorado Department of Transportation is pleased so far with the results of using a new deicing compound on Rabbit Ears Pass.
As temperatures dropped this month, maintenance crews responsible for keeping Rabbit Ears Pass open have been using magnesium chloride in its anti-icing efforts.
"This is the first time we have ever used it," said Bernie Lay, a CDOT maintenance superintendent out of Craig. "So far, the guys are saying it is helping."
CDOT is having maintenance trucks apply sand on Rabbit Ears Pass that has been sprayed with magnesium chloride.
"We are then putting sand on the road and letting the magnesium chloride melt into the ice or snow pack," Lay said.
By using a combination of sand and the substance, the snow on the ice-packed road is not only being melted by the magnesium, but the sand is providing traction, he said.
CDOT crews are putting the mixture on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass and the Muddy Pass area just past the junction of U.S. 40 and Colorado 14, he said.
"From what I have seen, it seems to be working better than the scoria. It is melting the ice and snow quicker than scoria," he said.
Scoria is crushed volcanic rock and is lightweight, he said.
"Scoria blows off the road," he said. "We could put scoria on the road, but then have it blown off by the first truck that comes down the road."
Lay said he is a big supporter of using magnesium chloride on the pass because of the danger the pass poses to motorists in the winter.
Despite the use of the substance, a fatality occurred on the pass earlier this month.
Since 1998, eight motorists have died because of accidents on the pass. Two have occurred this year with the most recent one occurring Nov. 6.
Stanley Nathan Perez, 34, died after his semi trailer truck pulling a tanker carrying 8,500 gallons of fuel rolled over at about milepost 140 of U.S. 40.
The Colorado State Police officers believe the crash was caused by a combination of speed and inclement weather.
The Thornton man was traveling westbound on U.S. 40 during snowy, icy conditions when the wreck occurred at about 5:45 a.m.
Lay believes CDOT is doing all it can to prevent accidents but insists accidents cannot be blamed solely on road conditions.
Although the magnesium chloride is working out well on the pass so far, Lay said he would rather be using a substance called "Caliber M 1000," which contains magnesium chloride, that is supposed to be better at deicing roads, he said.
Since the product is thicker, Lay is interested in mixing it with the lightweight scoria, he said.
"We want to find out if that would work and improve the road," he said. "It is more expensive, but we want to find out if it will cut back on the number of times we have to apply material."
Lay said he hopes the department can start using the substance by sometime in January.
Magnesium chloride is widely used on Interstate 70 and the Denver area but is not used on Rabbit Ears Pass.
Since Rabbit Ears Pass runs through National Forest property, the U.S. Forest Service is doing an environmental study to find out how land bordering the road is impacted by the substance.
A recent study in Washington and Oregon showed damage to pine trees where magnesium chloride had been used.