McLennan County residents may see a herbicide truck traveling the highways, but it is fighting ice this winter, not weeds.
The Texas Department of Transportation has rigged out its herbicide vehicles to pretreat interstates and other roadways with a brine to prevent ice from forming.
For the first time, all eight counties in TxDOT’s Waco District have herbicide trucks outfitted to fight bad road conditions, said Tony Moran, director of maintenance for the Waco District.
“We began using brine last year, but we only had one minor ice event. We usually have two or three per season,” Moran said.
The herbicide trucks are the first line of defense for Interstate 35, he said.
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said it cost about $1,900 per truck to retrofit them to apply the brine. Before each county in the district had its own converted truck, they would share resources to get ice-fighting work done.
The herbicide vehicles are used throughout the year to spray weeds along roadways, Roberts said. Now, when the roads look like they may become icy, a brine solution can be loaded on the trucks and applied ahead of a freeze to limit the amount of ice that forms on a roadway, he said.
Waco District maintenance crews for the past two months have been on high alert preparing for the inevitable, Moran said. Each section supervisor has individual supplies squared away of salt and ice chat, a mixture of sand and crushed rock, which are used most often on bridges and overpasses.
TxDOT dump trucks also pull double duty to fight ice.
Roberts said the vehicles double in the winter as salt and deicer spreaders.
TxDOT has a limited number of vehicles, so the organization makes the most of what it has by trying to use each vehicle to meet multiple needs, he said.
“Even our pickup trucks are multipurpose,” he said. “They may be regular at one point. The next time, it may have a digital sign in the back of it and is now a sign truck, as we call it. The dual utility of our vehicles allows us to operate under various conditions and to respond to the needs to our roadways.”
Moran said once ice forms, employees are split into two 12-hour shifts to patrol areas known to freeze. January and February are typically prime months for major ice storms in Central Texas, but most ice events last less than 48 hours, he said.
“Usually, we have plenty of notice before storms arrive,” Moran said. “But sometimes they sneak up on us, so we have to be ready well before it’s time.”
While I-35 is the priority, other first-tier roadways include Highway 6, U.S. 190 and U.S. 84, Moran said.
“We want to make sure these main thoroughfares are open for the transport of goods,” he said. “The bridges and overpasses on these routes will also be treated with ice chat.”
After the main roads are treated, crews branch out to other locations, including intersections and overpasses on rural roadways.
“The best time to treat the roads is right before it begins to freeze. It means we have to be ready. Right now, we are on standby,” Moran said.