With winter right around the corner, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department is getting prepared for the possibility of ice and snow, though none is forecast in the immediate future. On Tuesday, workers were seen making sure equipment was ready for streets and highways.
“We’re crossing our fingers that we don’t use them,” said AHTD maintenance worker Shawn Evans of the snow plows.
According to Tim Kelly, AHTD district maintenance engineer, one of the biggest problems for the area is ice and snow bonding to the roadways. In an effort to tackle that issue, the workers pre-treat highways and streets with a brine application consisting of salt and water. As of now, the department has 26,000 gallons of brine application prepared.
“As soon as we get about a quarter-inch on the road, we start running the plows,” Kelly said. “The whole premise of the pre-treating is so that it doesn’t bond to the road, and then as soon as it begins to hit we want to get it off the road as quickly as possible. So it doesn’t create a problem.”
In addition to the brine application, Kelly says they have seven 12-foot plows, two 6,000 gallon tankers, and a total of 15 trucks to tackle winter weather events.
“About three-to-four days prior is when we really start doing our work,” said Kelly. “We’ve got forecasting tools that the department has provided for us. We watch the weather very carefully, and if it looks like it’s going to materialize, then approximately 48 hours out that’s when we start hooking things up and getting things ready to go.”
Marwis is just one of the tools the department uses to help them monitor road conditions. The Marwis program provides real-time results.
“It gives you the temperature of the road, it gives you whether the road is wet, whether there’s ice or snow,” said Arkansas Department of Transportation district bridge inspector Greg Loomis. “It gives us everything that’s going on out there.”
Twenty-four percent of weather-related vehicle accidents happen on snowy, slushy or icy pavement, while 15 percent take place during snowfall and sleet yearly, according to the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Additionally, 900 people are killed and about 76, 000 drivers are injured in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet.
“Folks in Arkansas just simply aren’t used to driving in the ice and snow,” said Kelly of the dangers of driving on snow and ice. “They watch up north and up north they get a lot of snow and here (we) get ice. Even up north when they get ice they have problems, too.”
Kelly describes last year’s winter season as mild, noting that it only iced once.
“The black ice is a problem we have a lot,” he said. “We’ll have snow, and it’ll melt all day long and then at night it freezes back over and it’s real, real thin. It’s black and you cannot see it. The road appears good, but it could be very slick.”
Kelly urges drivers to stay off the roads or pre-plan to avoid being out in bad weather.
“Stay home if you can,” he said, adding that they have construction around the bypass. “Be very, very careful. We just ask folks to stay home as much as possible. I’ve been out at night and people are out driving and I think to myself, ‘if I didn’t have to be here, I wouldn’t be here.’”