Excalibur and the High Roller may be closed for the season, but Valleyfair Amusement Park still has one attraction open for the season: a driving track for Minnesota snowplow drivers.
MnDOT-funded researchers are studying the effects of weather and vehicle traffic on different deicing treatments in the parking lots of Valleyfair and Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.
It’s been a busy winter, but each week MnDOT Metro District snowplow drivers make one last stop before heading home, to apply different combinations of salt and anti-icing chemicals to nine 1,000-foot driving lanes. They also drive over each lane multiple times to test the effect of traffic.
“We’re running trucks up to 30 miles per hour with different speeds, wind conditions, traffic conditions and pre-wetting chemicals,” said Steve Druschel, a researcher with the Minnesota State University, Mankato. “Each lane is its own experimental unit.”
Professor Druschel’s students will review more than 17,000 photos from time-lapsed cameras to document how the snow melted in each experimental run.
“The influence of factors like pavement type and age, traffic volume, truck proportion, weather conditions and sun presence will be assessed to evaluate which techniques have special advantages for certain situations or roadways,” said Maintenance Research and Training Engineer Tom Peters.
In 2010, Druschel tested 25 anti-icing compounds in 1,500 different combinations in a laboratory to study the effectiveness of different deicers.
“Public work superintendents commented, ‘Great work. It looks good, except it’s all in the lab. Beakers aren’t what people drive on,’ ” Druschel said. “So we’re taking it from the two-inch ice cup to the real world in phase two of this study.”
With rock salt prices quadrupled, finding the most cost-effective methods of treatment is important.
This latest research will help determine the best times for applying anti-icing treatments and examine whether certain chemicals — such as a pre-storm liquid treatment that costs twice as much — melt enough snow to be worth the extra cost.
Test runs in Shakopee are strictly experimental, but in Mankato students are analyzing how real-world salting treatments are working on the North Star Bridge.
An article in the Mankato Free Press tells how Druschel’s team is collecting road melt runoff and documenting bridge traffic. (Big trucks, for instance, squeeze more water out of the snow.)
Students plan to use time-lapsed photos, along with weather data and snowplow records, to determine what chemical treatments worked best – and when.
With the multi-pronged research project, Druschel hopes to put definitiveness to what some snowplow drivers have already tried in the field.
“The key to it is not so much that we’re so smart and we have a better idea or are inventing something new,” he said. “We’re just trying to enhance what they are already doing.”