Roadways in region still dangerous

Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department officials are doing what they can to make area roadways passable, but still urging motorists to stay home until this most recent round of winter weather clears the area.

And, to possibly make matters worse, forecasters say there’s another chance of freezing rain Wednesday night.

According to Ray Woodruff, Zone 1 Engineer for AHTD, district crews have been spread thin over the past several days, working into the night to address major issues with interstates 40 and 55 while also working on state highways throughout Eastern Arkansas.

“We’re working on it the best we can, and doing what we can, but until the temperatures rise, there’s not a whole lot we can do,” said Woodruff.

Woodruff said most efforts have been focusing on clearing the interstates, which has been made more difficult due to the stalled traffic on one of the busiest interstate thoroughfares in the country.

“Once the temperatures rise, we’ll be able to do more, but one of the real problems that we’re seeing is just the inability to get to where the problem areas are because of all the stalled traffic. When the traffic stalls, you just can’t go anywhere, which means we can’t get to the problem to try to take care of it,” he said.

“Another problem out on the interstate is that we’ll get movement, then something will happen and it will just lock up again. We’ve had major problems with 55 going from West Memphis all the way up to the Missouri state line, and we’ve also had some problems over around Palestine. I don’t know what’s causing that problem, but we’ve had people calling saying that they’ve been stuck in traffic there for hours,” said Woodruff.

According to Woodruff, Monday’s sunshine was helpful but may have also helped create more problems this morning.

“We had the blades out yesterday and the snow and ice was a little easier to work with. The sun we had helped because we were able to take that top layer off, but we just couldn’t get down to the bottom of it to push it to the side. That may have caused more issues this morning because once you’ve got the snow pushed to the side, you’re left with nothing but a sheet of ice, and anything that melted and ran back across the road overnight just added to that sheet of ice,” he said.

Woodruff also said crews have been pushed to their limits since Sunday night and had to be rested overnight.

“We’re really having to spread our guys thin and had people out working late Sunday night when the storm first hit. We sent them home last night because once the temperatures fall into the teens, salt has no effect and they needed the rest.”

He also said the district has received assistance from the Highway Department District 6 crews headquartered in Hazen.

“We’ve been plugging away at it and the folks over in Hazen have helped us out by sending crews to Monroe County to help out over there, which allowed us to focus more on everything east,” he said.

According to Woodruff, the problems on the interstate have limited the amount of help that can be given on state highways.

“We’ve had such major problems with the interstate that we haven’t been able to put as much attention on our highways. We only have so many people to do so many jobs. We’ve had to break up our normal crews in an effort to get to more of the problem areas, but our guys are spread thin,” he said.

Forrest City Mayor Larry Bryant said city crews are doing what they can to help with the side streets.

“Overall, our guys have done a good job. They have been out doing what they can. We’ve had people cutting up trees and limbs, we’ve had guys out spreading sand at intersections and putting sand on streets, but there’s only so much we can do. Mose (Metcalf, public works director) had to run the grader yesterday which meant that he couldn’t direct crews to certain areas because he was busy, but we’re doing what we can,” said Bryant. “We’ve had to pitch in and help with some of our major intersections because the trucks have been having problems with these hills on Broadway. It was pretty bad at the intersection of Broadway and Washington last night. I was even out there trying to help because the traffic was so locked up. I watched a truck driver have the time to get out and put his chains on because they just couldn’t get any traction.”

Another problem area could center around the lack of availability of salt and sand.

“Talking about the salt, that could become a major issue real soon. We’re running low on salt, and with all of the harsh weather that they’ve had up north this year, there’s just no salt to be found. We called last month trying to order some salt and were told that it could be the middle of this month before they could get any salt to us, and with this current storm, that will be too late,” said Woodruff.

Woodruff said the best thing for most residents to do at this point is stay home and wait for things to clear.

“It’s bad in places out there. I would suggest that people simply stay home. Unless it is an emergency, the conditions worsened overnight and it’s very hazardous out there,” said Woodruff.

Bryant also suggested that residents stay home unless it is absolutely necessary.

“We appreciate everybody calling in and letting us know where there are trees and limbs down and letting the police department know about trouble areas on the roads, but I’m just asking people to stay in and stay off the streets right now. This will hopefully be out of here in the next couple of days and things can go back to normal, but right now it’s very dangerous out here trying to drive,” said Bryant.