Douglas County tries a new ingredient in its winter road treatment: beet juice

photo by: Douglas County Public Works Department

Rod Heard, Douglas County Public Works operations division manager, sprays beet juice into the sand and salt mixture used for winter road treatment on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. The beet juice is an effective road treatment agent when temperatures drop below 15 degrees, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

With the temperatures falling close to zero degrees this week, Douglas County’s Public Works Department added a special ingredient to its winter road treatment mixture.

On Wednesday, public works crews for the first time put beet juice into the usual mixture of salt, sand and brine to help prevent ice from building up on county roads.

Beet juice may seem like a curious additive for such treatment, but Public Works Director Keith Browning said it’s actually quite useful for extreme temperatures. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, the sugar in beets is an effective road treatment agent when temperatures fall below 15 degrees.

“It’s new for us, but it’s purported to lower the temperature of the sand-salt-brine mix so that it should be more effective when you get these colder temperatures down around zero,” Browning told the Journal-World Thursday. “Typically, without that, our normal mix is just not going to be effective.”

photo by: Douglas County Public Works Department

The Douglas County Public Works Department uses a truck to mix beet juice with a sand and salt mixture that was used on county roads to prevent them from icing over.

When mixed with brine, which is the standard saltwater treatment, the beet juice helps slow the process of moisture turning into solid ice, according to a KDOT news release.

Additionally, the beet juice can make the treatment more effective because it is sticky, allowing the mixture to cling to the roads longer. Jim Frye, field maintenance manager and emergency coordinator for KDOT, said in the news release that salt or brine on the roads can be whisked away by traffic or wind.

“When the beet juice is added to the salt, or salt brine, with its sticky texture, it will hold the salt or salt crystals on the highway longer, allowing it to work in our favor,” Frye said.

Browning said he was aware of the use of beet juice in winter road treatment operations in other states, particularly ones farther north where the temperatures drop below 15 degrees more often. But he said he didn’t think Douglas County would ever use it because beets are more commonly grown in those states than in Kansas.

However, KDOT, which works closely with the county’s public works staff, began using beet juice for the winter treatment of state highways about five years ago, getting the juice from an Iowa supplier, according to a department blog post. After a day of snowfall throughout Wednesday, temperatures in Douglas County fell to the single digits Thursday morning, which gave the Public Works Department the opportunity to give the beet juice a shot.

“(KDOT) highly touted the beet juice, so we thought it would be a good idea to give it a try,” Browning said. “I think it’s a really good idea and (we’re) wanting to try something new to be as effective as possible.”

Although the county has only used it once, Browning said his department is pleased with the results so far. He said Thursday morning it appeared to be doing its job as advertised.

“It seems to really be working and most of the roads are in good shape,” he said.

Contact Dylan Lysen

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact reporter Dylan Lysen:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.