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Dakota County has a juicy solution for slick winter roads

The same vegetable kids across the country try to hide on their plates at dinnertime could help keep your car securely on Dakota County roads during the coldest days of winter.

The county's highway department started experimenting last winter with an ice-melting product made up primarily of beet juice. This year, the county has expanded its use of the vegetable-based product. Marketed under brand names like Ice Bite 55 and Geomelt 55, it is 55 percent beet juice in a salt brine. The county uses salt treated with the product on days when the temperature is expected to drop particularly low.

The juice comes from sugar beets.

So far, the beet-juice brine seems to be working. Dakota County maintenance highway manager Jim Bell said the juice melts snow in sub-zero temperatures at least as well as the magnesium-chloride solution the county used to use.

"It's gone well," Bell said. "It's a little stickier. It seems maybe it holds the road a little better than plain salt. It's brown in color, so you can see it coming off the spinner a little better than plain salt.

"We've used it through a few events that were in the teens below zero. I think one day it was close to 20 below, and it does work."

County plow trucks use the beet-treated salt ahead of expected snowfalls to prevent ice from forming.

The beet-juice solution costs about the same as the magnesium-chloride mix, but the county needs about half as much -- about four gallons per ton instead of eight. If the county uses 4,000 tons of salt over the course of a winter -- the high end of the range Bell provided -- that could mean nearly $4,000 in savings.

The juice is brown, making it easier for plow drivers to see as they apply it. That means the county doesn't have to use the blue dye it usually added when it used magnesium chloride, another savings.

There are other benefits, too. Magnesium chloride kills vegetation and can cause problems when it gets into stormwater holding ponds. It also can attack the metal of cars and plow equipment.

Beet juice is much gentler.

"It's less corrosive. It's better for the environment. It stays more flowable when you put it in the box," Bell said. "It doesn't clump as bad in the pile, so you don't have to spend time breaking it up."

The county did not have to add new equipment to start using the beet juice.