Whether it’s the freeway, a city street or a residential driveway or sidewalk, melting the ice that covers the pavement is nearly a necessity during the harsh Minnesota winters.

So what is most effective way to get rid of it?

Jim Gildner, whose family owns Hamline Hardware Hank off Snelling Ave. in St. Paul, said the answer for sidewalks and driveways is obvious — ice melts.

“It’ll melt the snow, or ice, and then it just runs off, which gives you dry pavement,” Gildner said Tuesday, as a fresh round of snow blanketed icy streets and sidewalks throughout the Twin Cities.

Gildner said that while sand is better for the environment than ice melts or salt, it does not melt ice or snow.

That said, few of the common ice fighting options are environmentally friendly, those who work with the melting products say. Salt destroys concrete and drains into ponds, creeks and sewer systems. Sand can clog stormwater systems, and ice-melts are potentially dangerous to humans and pets.

But while ice-melts work well on residential pavement, Minnesota Department of Transportation crews and the Minneapolis Public Works opt for rock salt for streets and freeways.

The reason?

“It’s purely about cost,” said Mike Kennedy, Director of Transportation, Maintenance and Repair for Minneapolis Public Works. “We pay about $70 per ton of the rock salt that would equate to $500 per ton for some commercial ice-melt products.”

While the ice-melt products are more effective, Kennedy said the salt used by the city works well.

“[Salt] is very effective in temperatures in 15 degrees and above … but just like some of the other alternative products in zero, or subzero temperatures, will lose effectiveness.”

MnDOT Communication Coordinator Kevin Gutknecht said that although salt has been the department’s primary tool against ice, it is constantly looking for a better alternative.

Gutknecht said the department is currently putting potassium acetate on roads in northeastern Minnesota to melt the ice. He said he does not yet know how well it has worked.

For some homeowners, like Paul Verrette, of St. Anthony Village, there are other options, especially on a new driveway.

“We don’t do anything to prevent ice anymore, but we use cherry stone grit on top, which is like granite,” said Verrette, who has a new concrete driveway. “It prevents people from slipping but does not melt anything.”


David Mullen is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune