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Winter storm clearing results 'unacceptable' in parts of state, agency admits

Highway Department must do 'better job,' director says

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published December 18, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.


Traffic moves slowly across the ice covered south bound lanes of interstate 540 south of Greenland after a December winter storm.

The results of efforts to clear highways after a winter storm dropped snow, sleet and freezing rain across much of Arkansas earlier this month was unacceptable in some places, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department acknowledged Wednesday.

“We did not achieve desirable or even acceptable results in some areas as our crews worked to clear highways during the recent winter storm,” Director Scott Bennett said in a statement. “We are aware of and frustrated by the unsatisfactory conditions that persisted too long in some areas. We also know situations like this create perceptions that can only be addressed by improving the results we achieve, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Wintry precipitation began falling Dec. 5 and spread throughout Arkansas in the next day, coating highways with ice and snow and leading many schools, businesses and offices to close for days.

Despite the problems, Bennett defended the department's efforts, noting crews "worked around-the-clock" to try to improve the conditions.

“What we must do as an agency is to make sure we provide our crews with the proper tools to address these storms,” Bennett said in the statement. “We are a Southern state — we will never have the amount of dedicated snow and ice fighting equipment as our neighbors to the north — but we must make sure we utilize the resources we do have available to the best of our ability.”

Bennett said his agency has been in contact with Missouri to learn "best practices" for dealing with slick conditions. As a result, the Arkansas agency has used a mixture of beet juice and salt to pretreat roads and has purchased equipment to spread the mixture before storms hit.

Those strategies were used before the latest storm, but even they "did not fare well with the ice accumulations we experienced," Bennett said.

“Our goal moving forward is to achieve better results when addressing winter weather conditions on our State highways,” Bennett said. “Every storm is different and provides unique challenges, and no state is 100 percent successful all the time. But our most recent results were unacceptable in some areas, and we know we must do a better job for our citizens.”

Several new, specialized plows could help with future responses, the agency said.

Six new plows with a blade mounted underneath the truck have been received or will be soon. Only one of the new vehicles, which are said to be better at clearing ice, was in service for the last round of storms, but Bennett said the department is "encouraged" by its performance.

A new "tow plow" is also expected to be operational by Jan. 1. That vehicle, which can clear multiple travel lanes in one pass, will be primarily used on Interstates 40 and 540 in Northwest Arkansas, Bennett's statement said.

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 total comments

Panhandleslim says... December 18, 2013 at 11:59 a.m.

I have yet to see acceptable storm clearing on the roads in Arkansas. I have lived here since 1977. The highway department always brags about being ready and having their trucks loaded but nothing happens. I-440 was never cleared to an acceptable level. It had to melt off mostly on it's own. One morning I did see trucks with snow blades working the shoulders on 167 north of Sherwood, but not on the roadway itself.

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LevyRat says... December 18, 2013 at 2:15 p.m.

Well, I don't expect the AHTD to "stock up" on snow clearing equipment since over most of the state it rarely snows more than once or twice a year.

What we need is more employers who will not risk employee's lives by opening and making them come in on days where the roads are so bad that you cannot get around.

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hogfan2012 says... December 18, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.

Amen, LevyRat. I thing the AHTD does a good job when it is snow, but I don't think it is possible to "adequately" clear ice off the roads. The blades just leave a thin layer which refreezes and makes it much worse the next day. As LevyRat said, employers need to be more considerate of their employees lives. And also take into consideration how far they drive. I am blessed to only drive 1/2 mile - I could easily walk to work. My daughter drives about 75 miles each way to work - from what is labeled as Southeast Arkansas to Central Arkansas - she probably drove through 4 or 5 different degrees of how bad the roads were.

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Jfish says... December 18, 2013 at 3:19 p.m.

I agree with Levy and hogfan, I thought the AHTD did as well as could be expected under the conditions. Ice and sleet are a whole different animal than snow.

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