RFTA scrambles to save buses from mag chloride | AspenTimes.com

RFTA scrambles to save buses from mag chloride

Scott Condon

The company that runs the bus system in the Roaring Fork Valley has invested about $269,000 to try to protect its fleet against the ravages of a road de-icer.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority purchased a new bus washer so that it could do a better job of cleaning magnesium chloride off its vehicles. While the purchase of a bus washer doesn’t sound like a big deal, it has huge financial implications for RFTA.The agency estimates the investment will extend the useful life of its buses by 20 percent, according to Kenny Osier, director of maintenance.”Usually, before magnesium chloride, 15 years on our buses was nothing,” he said. At a minimum, RFTA counted on 12 years of service. Now buses start rusting more than normal after five years and show “serious corrosion” at 10 years, said Osier.Buses have to be retired earlier or, in some cases, money is sunk into rehabilitating them because the engines are still good. For a cash-strapped public agency, replacing buses sooner can be a budget buster.New buses cost $300,000, so investing in a new washer will reap dividends in a short time, assuming it extends the life of buses. The washer cost $169,000. Another $100,000 was spent rehabilitating the washing area.RFTA had a 21-year-old washer at its maintenance facility at the Aspen Business Center, but it didn’t clean the undercarriage of buses, where the de-icer hits hardest. In addition, the new washer recycles 90 percent of the water, significantly more than the older model, said RFTA’s Mike Hermes.Osier said magnesium chloride harms the wheel wells and other areas that are hit from the spray of wheels, as well as the electrical connections in the undercarriage of buses. Magnesium chloride pools in nooks and crannies, mixes with dirt, dries and “turns to cement” that basically has to be chiseled off, said Osier.The liquid de-icer became the Colorado Department of Transportation’s substance of choice in the mid-1990s to try to keep roads clear of ice during winters. Roads are coated with the gooey liquid when storms are anticipated. It takes colder temperatures to make the substance freeze, so roads are safer and accidents are reduced, according to CDOT.Some motorists complain that the substance trashes their vehicles and makes them rust quicker. On the other hand, reduced use of sand and gravel creates better air quality.”What I tell people is there are added costs to RFTA on one side and added benefits from the use of magnesium chloride,” Osier said.The guy in charge of keeping a fleet of 85 buses rolling has learned an important lesson working around magnesium chloride.”I wash my car much more frequently than ever before,” Osier said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com