JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. ­ Every winter, the Missouri Dept. of Transportation (MoDOT) uses considerable labor, salt and other chemicals to remove snow and ice from the state's roads and bridges.

Within the next year, MoDOT will become one of the nation's first agencies to turn to solar energy to prevent ice and snow from building up on bridge decks.

MoDOT will install a 'solar warming system' on two bridges near Excelsior Springs, Mo. next spring when the bridges' decks are replaced as part of the state's Safe & Sound Bridge Improvement Program.

Both bridges are on Route 10. The one east of Excelsior Springs passes over Route 69. The one west of Excelsior Springs passes over the Fishing River.

The warming system operates much like radiant heating works in a home's floor. Tubing is installed in the bridge deck, and a heated solution pumped through the tubing keeps the deck from freezing.

The energy to heat the solution is provided by solar panels mounted near the bridge. Excess energy that the panels produce when the heating system is not in use can be sold back to local utilities.

"Water and the chemicals used to melt ice and snow are a bridge's biggest enemies," State Bridge Engineer Dennis Heckman said. "If we can find a cost effective way to keep a bridge clear without using chemicals we can extend its life."

The bridges will be put out for bids in February, with construction scheduled between April and August, 2010. The heating systems are to be operable by November 2010.

MoDOT will evaluate the performance of the systems before making a decision on whether to install more of them on other bridges.