Caltrans’ blade-equipped vehicles recently could be heard many times throughout the night scraping Highway 243 even though there was no snow accumulation. The Town Crier contacted Terry Kasinga, public information officer of Caltrans, to learn the reason for this. She advised that Caltrans vehicles were patrolling for rocks.

“Highway 243 is one of the worst for rocks,” she said, pointing out that during and after storms rocks frequently fall onto the roadway, and Caltrans tries to get those hazards out of the way as soon as possible.

Folk also are wondering about the 10 light-colored stripes in each lane of Highway 243 that appear before each expected snowfall. The stripes are sprayed on by Caltrans. A specially equipped truck sprays a de-icing solution on the roadway, which prevents the road surface from icing up when the snow falls.

Kasinga referred us to Kelly Cook, the Caltrans maintenance supervisor at the Keen Camp Maintenance Station along Highway 74 in Garner Valley.

Cook related that the de-icing solution is simple salt water, a weak solution of ordinary table salt — sodium chloride. “We spray it on before a storm and it soaks into the asphalt,” he said. “It’s much more effective than spreading rock-salt crystals and cinders at only a fraction of the cost.”

In recent years, de-icing brine in some states consisted of a solution of both sodium chloride and magnesium chloride, and perhaps other chemicals, but magnesium chloride has been reported to be more corrosive to automobiles than simple sodium chloride.

Cook further related that the salt solution puts much less salt onto the roadway compared to the salt crystals that they formerly spread with cinders. “About 800 pounds of salt will make about 1,000 gallons of de-icing solution, and that’s more than enough to spray the entire length of Highway 243,” Cook said. He further stated that less salt on the roadway means less salt runs off the sides, so it has less or no effect on roadside vegetation.

Kasinga said the brine solution is about “30-percent salt” (not clear whether that is by weight, by volume, or weight per unit volume) and that it is made at Caltrans’ yard in Hemet. The brine-making machine cost $250,000, but spraying salt solution on has proved to use less salt, and it is more effective and much cheaper than spreading the granular, commercially made de-icing products CalTrans formerly used.

Some locals have noticed that one of the benefits of the de-icing solution is the absence of berms along the highway. So far, driveways along the highway are not being bermed shut by plows after snowfalls, so residents along the highway are not spending time and effort digging their cars out. Whether that will hold true after a very heavy snowfall remains to be seen.