Ice Slicer aimed to reduce accidents in downtown Aspen |

Ice Slicer aimed to reduce accidents in downtown Aspen

City streets get new treatment of deicer as a winter experiment

A group walks across the road near Rubey Park Transit Center on a winter day in Aspen on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

The streets of Aspen should not be as slick this winter as the city is testing out a deicing agent, a practice that has not been used in almost two decades.

Ice Slicer has been applied on select roads twice so far this season, said Jerry Nye, the city’s superintendent of streets.

The deicer contains complex chlorides, with trace minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. It’s used by Pitkin County and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Nye said it melts the snow faster than other agents, and combined with the city’s 3/8-inch rock chips that are applied to the streets after a storm, it will help vehicles gain more traction.

“It’s mostly for bus traffic and cars so they can stop for crosswalks,” he said.

Aspen City Council in August asked Nye to find a deicing agent and apply it in high-accident areas of downtown.

The city is applying Ice Slicer on Highway 82 from the roundabout through town on Main Street and onto Cooper Avenue to the bridge over the Roaring Fork River. It’s also being applied on Spring Street up to Durant Avenue, down to South Aspen Street and back to Main Street, which are the main bus routes to and from the Rubey Park transit station.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority operates between 700 and 800 bus trips a day during the winter season into and out of Aspen, and icy streets greatly hamper their ability to operate safely and maintain a schedule, according to officials.

Buses have had to cease operations entirely due to street conditions that are considered unsafe for transit operations in past winters, Nye told the council this past August.

April Long, the city’s clean river program manager, is monitoring three test sites this winter to determine how much chloride is reaching the Roaring Fork River. Those locations are near the Stillwater Bridge east of town, as well as a catch basin in Rio Grande Park and the outfall just downstream of that.

She’ll also be looking at how much sediment from the rock chips is going into the river and determine which option is less harmful.

“There will be some amount of chloride or salt that can go into the river without damage or exceeds the health levels for the river,” she said. “We are impacting the river and we are trying to figure out the lesser of the two evils.”

Long said she expects to have results after the winter and will bring those to council in the summer.

Sediment is the primary pollutant of concern for the city’s clean river program because it can degrade water quality.

Of the 477 tons of sand that has been put down each winter, half of that is later removed through the snow removal process and winter street sweeping.

The city switched to aggressive snow plowing and the use of sand in 2002, after council decided to do away with liquid magnesium chloride due to concerns for the environment and water quality.

Nye said the streets department was only using 180 tons of sand when it was allowed to use what’s referred to as “mag chloride.”

The city’s use of Ice Slicer is a one-year experiment to see its effects on traffic and pedestrian safety, as well as the health of the river.

Nye said he’s already seen a difference in some areas of town.

“It’s definitely helped at the S-curves,” he said. “It’s doing what it’s expected to do and with a couple more storms we’ll know how well it’s working.”

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