The Herald-Palladium 07/24/2013 Copyright 2013
By John Matuszak, HP Staff Writer
Benton Township—This summer, young people working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and Kinexus have shown that they’re worth their salt.
The workers, ages 16 to 24, with the Kinexus (formerly Michigan Works) Summer Youth Work Experience, have been participating in an MDOT study on how salt is applied to roads that could save millions of dollars here and across the country.
“I like being part of something that has a bigger aspect to it,” said Wendy Peterman, 17, a Coloma High School student in her second year working with the Kinexus job program. “You get to see that there are more jobs than just mowing lawns.”
Tues was the last day that the crew of 36 took part in what is called a “bounce and scatter” study to determine how much salt stacks on the roads as trucks travel at different speeds. This is the first year that the Kinexus crew has participated in this study.
They were arrayed on an unused section of road off Napier Avenue, where US-31 ends, with several lands marked where trucks would drop road salt. The workers then suck up the salt left in the different lanes with shop vacuums and weight it to find out how much stays in the middle lands and how much is lost on the periphery.
This is the second year that MDOT has done the study. Last year’s report, which has been distributed nationwide, concluded that 25 mph was the optimum speed for trucks to get the most salt on the road, and 35 mph should be the maximum speed.
This year’s study is looking at different distribution methods, such as “zero velocity,” in which the salt is spun backwards at the same speed as the truck is moving. Under this method, salt is dropped as if the truck were standing still.
Justin Droste, operations engineer with MDOT, said the 2012 study showed that going at a slower speed could save 30 to 50 percent of the salt being spread on roadways.
And that translates into big bucks. MDOT spends around $33 million on salt during an average winter, buying 550,000 tons at $60 a ton. Total winter costs for fuel, salaries and other expenses are $100 million.
The 2012 study said the nine-county southwest Michigan region could save $3.6 million a year on salt by adopting the slower truck speeds.
Having the Kinexus crew available has allowed MDOT to do this important study, he added.
“We don’t have the manpower to bring all these people out and do this in a timely and effective manner,” Hassenzahl said. “They have been a tremendous help to us.”
Michigan is the leader in these type of trials, Hassenzahl said.
The Kinnexus crew members are getting the chance to participate in something that probably won’t be duplicated for 20 or 30 years, Hassenzahl said. The last salt study was done in 1974.
Travis Hargan, with Jobs for America’s Graduates, pointed out that the workers are getting some valuable experience in math and science.
Part of the program includes talks by MDOT people and other professionals on potential careers in engineering and other fields.
Working with MDOT is something they can put on their resumes, Hargan said. One young man, Corey Lange, 16, a student at Grace Christian School in Watervliet, has received a letter of recommendation from an MDOT official.
Lange said he has enjoyed getting the hands-on experience and is considering a career in engineering.
The crew members also had the experience of working out of doors on concrete pavement when the temperatures recently climbed into the high 90s.
That’s when it was hardest to motivate everyone admitted Corey Neeley, 23, a 2007 Benton Harbor High School graduate and recent college graduate and a crew supervisor. But they got the job done, he said.
Neeley, in his fourth year with Summer Youth Work Experience, will be pursuing a career in sports medicine, but he said working with MDOT is a plus for those interested in this kind of work.
And these well-paying jobs aren’t going away, said Hargan.
“The roads aren’t going anywhere, and the deterioration isn’t going to stop,” he said.
For information on the Summer Youth Work Experience program, visit www.Kinexus.org.