Mag chloride forcing early bus replacement |

Mag chloride forcing early bus replacement

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is being forced to replace some of its fleet sooner than expected because of extensive rusting as a result of the de-icer magnesium chloride, according to its executive director.

Historically, RFTA, the second-largest public transit agency in the state, has extended the useful life of its buses beyond the 12-year, 500,000-mile shelf life through the tender loving care of its maintenance department.

But in a memo to the transit agency board of directors, Executive Director Dan Blankenship said the replacement policy must now be reconsidered, in part because of problems wrought by the de-icer used by the Colorado Department of Transportation since the mid-1990s.

“Since the state of Colorado began using magnesium chloride, RFTA equipment has suffered from severe structural corrosion that will force RFTA to remove many of its older vehicles from service in the not too distance future,” Blankenship wrote.

Magnesium chloride is a form of salt that can be applied to road surfaces in a liquid form. CDOT uses it widely on state highways before and after winter storms.

In an interview, Blankenship explained that mag chloride eats away electrical system lines in the undercarriage of buses. The metal frames have also corroded quicker.

“Almost from its inception we started having operational problems with it,” Blankenship said. “We really didn’t have any rust problems until mag chloride came into use.”

Relief is within sight. New buses use materials that are more resistant to rusting and the wiring is better protected. In addition, the RFTA maintenance shop that opened in Glenwood Springs in 2002 has a bus wash that cleans the undercarriage.

CDOT acknowledges that regular washing of vehicles is needed to avoid rusting from mag chloride.

Although the relief will help in the future, RFTA still must replace a substantial portion of its fleet sooner than anticipated. The RFTA staff is proposing the purchase of four hybrid buses and replacement of 10 conventional buses. The total cost would be about $5.6 million, Blankenship said.

Each hybrid, which uses regular and electrical motors, costs roughly $250,000 more than a conventional bus, Blankenship said. The hybrid buses are “marginally” more fuel-efficient and pollute less. The biggest advantage is they are significantly quieter, he said.

Hybrids are “the direction we would like to go” with future purchases if the money is available.

RFTA is going to seek a loan from the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprised of the upper-valley governments, to help buy the four hybrids and 10 conventional buses. The loan will be repaid through grants the agency anticipates receiving over the next three years.

If the funds can be patched together the buses would likely be delivered by the end of 2004 or early 2005.

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