Keeping the roads clear

February 3, 2019

The cold and precipitation that create icy roads and extra danger for motorists means extra work for road crews in the area. 

From midnight Jan. 26 through midnight Thursday, Indiana Department of Transportation crews used 7,400 tons of salt to keep roads ice-free across 5,000 lane miles in the 17 counties covered by the northeast district, spokeswoman Nichole Hacha-Thomas said. 

INDOT crews logged 5,130 labor hours during that time. 

Crews for the Allen County Highway Department have used about 4,435 tons of salt this season out of 9,000 tons requisitioned. 

According to the National Weather Service of Northern Indiana, about 2.9 inches of snow fell on Fort Wayne on Jan. 26, followed by a few dustings in subsequent days. That snowfall was followed by a series of intense subzero temperatures. 

″(On Jan. 26) they did some pre-treating and called crews in for the snow (that) afternoon/night. We had some crews working clean-up on (Jan. 27) with a full call out (140 plows, one for every route) on Monday with 12-hour shifts,” Hacha-Thomas said in an email. “We kept a smaller crew on in 12-hours shifts for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, mostly to patrol for slick spots and drop material (salt) when needed.”

But subzero temperatures like those that hit the region last week make salt less effective, Hacha-Thomas said. 

“We do have additives that we supplement salt with to lower the melting point, but we advise drivers to always be on the lookout for black ice and slick spots,” she said. “Those can occur any place but are more likely at intersections, on bridges, ramps and overpasses/underpasses.”

There are ways drivers can ensure they are being safe this winter season, Fort Wayne Police spokesman Michael Joyner said.

To start, drivers can check their tire grip by choosing a safe place to brake gently. Drivers should also move slowly and accelerate and brake very gently, he said. It’s most important to drive slowly where the road bends, because loss of control is more likely. 

Joyner said he did not have numbers to indicate how many crashes have occurred in Fort Wayne this season because of icy roads.

If in a slide, turn the vehicle’s front wheels in the same direction that the rear of the vehicle is sliding. 

“You’ve also heard about ‘turning into the slide.’ These both mean the same thing,” Joyner said. “For example, if the back of your car slides to the right, turn the wheel to the right.”

Black ice is particularly tricky, Joyner said. 

“Black ice, as it’s called, isn’t actually black in color. Spotting black ice is tricky because it looks like water,” Joyner said, noting that the best thing to do is be aware of weather conditions. “If it’s below freezing or supposed to drop below freezing while you’re out driving, assume that every wet spot you see is a patch of black ice.” 

If a crash occurs, move your vehicle out of the roadway safely, if possible. 

“For your safety, be hyperaware of approaching motor vehicles. If you couldn’t stop, they may not be able to as well,” Joyner said. “If you have road flares and can safely deploy them to give approaching motorists an advance warning of a hazard ahead, do so.”

The recent freeze and thaw can cause other problems for motorists : particularly in the form of potholes, said John Haddock, a Purdue University civil engineer.

“Temperature is a problem. Our pavements would work much better if we built and used them indoors,” Haddock said with a chuckle. “Then again, so would we.”

But road maintenance crews have gotten better when trying to combat ice and snow, Haddock said. Treating roads before snowstorms makes it easier to clear roads and reduces the energy required to do so. 

“The reason for that is it keeps snow and ice from adhering to pavement and makes it easier to get rid of,” Haddock said. “That means they can use less of what most of us think of as salt.”

Reader Question:

Q. What are the chances that Baird Road, just south of Carroll and north of Dupont, will be paved anytime soon? : Ann D. 

A. Baird road is not on the list at this time, Allen County Highway Director Bill Hartman said.

Road Sage is a monthly column. Dave Gong, The Journal Gazette’s local government reporter, provides updates on public works projects in the Fort Wayne area and answers selected questions from readers. Submit a question by emailing roadsage@jg.net or tweeting @JGRoadSage.

Update hourly