Arkansas Department of Transportation officials say they expect to manage a different road scenario this week than they did just a week ago, and that heavy snows over several days may not be as difficult to clear as just a few hours of ice were in the region’s first winter weather event.
Bruce Street, district engineer for ARDOT District 5 said no two winter storms are the same and that the variables before and after the storm affect road clearing as much as the storm itself.
“If you get hard, bitter cold temperatures before an event, all the snow freezes, and then you’ve got variables between wet and dry snows. We can get a dry snow off pretty quickly, especially if it comes after a stretch of 40 or 50 degree weather, but it’s really hard to fight snow in the bitter cold,” Street said. “Ice is a different animal altogether. If I had to rate it on a scale of 10, I’d say what we’re predicted to be in for this week should be a six or a seven, whereas just those few hours of ice a week earlier might be an eight or a nine.”
Chemical treatments to clear roads during an average winter storm will run an average of $200,000 to $300,000 in the district budget, he said. “This could easily be a $300,000 event, and we spent more last week removing road ice than we previously would have spent during an entire season.”
Street said ARDOT began making significant changes in its winter weather strategies after the 2009 ice storm when the agency received heavy criticism for how it handled road conditions. Many compared Arkansas roads covered in ice to Missouri roads just across the state line that were clear. “Of course, they have a lot of resources we don’t have, but that’s when everything changed and we began investing a lot more in equipment and chemicals. It’s a different ball game now,” Street said.