Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

January 8, 2014

Roads may improve today

Brutal temps mean road salt is ineffective

By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — With horrendous driving conditions stretching into a third day Tuesday, it was understandable that cabin-crazy residents are hoping for improved road conditions.

Howard County Highway Superintendent Ted Cain said it won’t happen overnight.

“The state of the state roads and city streets right now, that’s what our county roads are going to look like for a long time,” Cain said Tuesday afternoon.

Drivers faced slick, rutted, hard-packed snow on most road surfaces Tuesday, with salt unable to work, even when laced with magnesium chloride.

“Until we get above freezing temperatures, they’re going to be a little snow packed,” Cain said. “We just can’t salt everything.”

State officials said they can use enhancers like magnesium chloride and “Beet Heet,” a product made from beet juice, to lower the effective temperature that salt works at down to zero degrees, but temperatures didn’t make it above zero until around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“[Wednesday] is going to help a lot,” Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Harry Maginity said. “When the sun’s out and the wind quits blowing, we can get a lot done.”

INDOT officials are hoping the salt put down just before and during Sunday’s epic snowstorm will have formed a slushy brine underneath the current snow pack, making it easier to peel off the packed snow and ice once temperatures allow it.

But with temperatures expected to remain in single digits overnight Tuesday into today, INDOT crews weren’t going to do much other than push back any encroaching drifts overnight.

“We’re going to hit it hard [Wednesday] prior to sunup,” Maginity said. “Our equipment right now is being put to the test. It’s a combination of cold and workload on our crews.”

Cain said the county roads will likely remain snow packed for some time, mainly because on many of the roads there’s not enough traffic for salt to work properly.

Applying salt to a road with little traffic usually creates a situation where the top layer of the packed surface thaws a bit, and then refreezes at night, creating more slick spots than there would have been otherwise, Cain said.

“Sometimes salt can have a negative effect,” he said.

The majority of calls on local roadways have been the “assist motorist” variety, the catch-all phrase police and sheriff deputies use for helping stranded drivers.

From noon Sunday to noon Tuesday, the Kokomo Police Department and the Howard County Sheriff Department responded to more than 167 assist motorist calls, as well as several calls to assist at scenes where cars slid off roadways and were abandoned. There were no serious injuries reported in that time.

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers said he’s pressed the department’s five four-wheel drive vehicles into 24-hour service during the storm, and the department is also using a number of new Chevy Tahoe SUVs to assist motorists.

Even so, Rogers said, the officers have responded to several calls where a deputy needed assistance getting unstuck.

And three days into battling the storm, just about every department is seeing the effects of vehicle fatigue. At INDOT’s Tipton subdistrict, three of the 27 trucks are in the shop right now, while others have been in and out, Maginity said.

In Kokomo, gelling diesel fuel caused some problems, but Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight praised the performance of city employees.

“I have no complaints whatsoever with their performance,” Goodnight said. “All things considered, I think it has gone pretty well.”

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569, scott.smith@kokomotribune.com, or on Twitter, @JasonSSmith1.

Police/sheriff traffic calls from Noon Sunday to Noon Tuesday City of Kokomo Howard County 65 assist motorist 92 assist motorist 38 property damage accidents 2 property damage accidents 0 personal injury accidents 1 personal injury accident 3 slide offs 5 slide offs Total 106 100