Crawford deals with ice-covered roads
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]
In anticipation of the most severe winter weather in years, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners had an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon at the Emergency Management Office in English.
Old Man Winter was expected to wallop the area, dumping as much as six inches of snow by early in the week, followed by a chance of more snow later.
Crawford County was still dealing with the effects of a sleet event that coated the county Feb. 10 and 11. Late Saturday night, the commissioners declared a state of emergency, closing county roads to all but emergency traffic.
Many county roads were still covered, some all but impassable, on Sunday.
The highway department and county officials were criticized for what some residents saw as an inadequate response to clearing roads.
The commissioners addressed that at Sunday’s meeting, explaining the many factors that affect the ability to clear roads.
Most significantly, ice is much more difficult to deal with than snow. Crawford County has 480 miles of county roads and only five trucks, which each hold 10 tons of material.
To give some perspective, commissioners’ president Dan Crecelius said a person driving south would be south of Montgomery, Ala., before the trip odometer rolled over on 480 miles.
Also, many roads require two passes to clear, adding more time to the task.
“It’s a very time-consuming process,” said Crecelius.
Drivers typically work between 12 and 14 hours before taking a break.
“Of course, they’ve got to sleep sometime,” Crecelius added.
Last week, chains were put on the truck tires to increase traction, but that means the trucks can only travel about 25 miles per hour, adding even more time to the task.
The county has three sheds in which the chips used to treat roads are stored, located at Beechwood, Marengo and Eckerty.
When the sleet began covering roads last Wednesday, the highway department tried to scrape roadways. However, roads quickly froze and they weren’t able to make progress.
From early Thursday morning to late that night, highway crews chipped roads, applying gravel to increase traction. They continued that to a lesser degree on Friday and again on Saturday.
Crecelius explained that the highway department concentrates first on the most dangerous areas, especially hills and curves where drivers can easily lose control on ice and snow.
When the highway department called Mulzer’s Quarry to obtain additional rock, they ran into a problem. The quarry had been inundated with orders and had no usable rock available as of Feb. 12.
Crawford County doesn’t use spreaders to apply rock. Rather, drivers let the material flow out the tailgate of the dump trucks, so it must be dry. If the rock is wet or frozen, it will clump and fail to apply properly.
The highway department kept some rock to use for emergencies, such as ensuring an ambulance or fire truck could reach a scene.
During the weekend, other area quarries were contacted. They were either closed or had no suitable rock available.
The county commissioners also spoke with State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, and State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, to see if the Indiana Department of Transportation might be able to give the county a hand.
Commissioner Morton Dale said he learned INDOT would not be able to assist the county with trucks and salt until they first dealt with state roads.
The Crawford County Highway Department is not outfitted to spread salt. Chad Riddle, president of the county council, was in attendance at Sunday’s meeting. He estimated it would cost approximately $1 million for the equipment needed to use road salt.
Crecelius said county highway department foreman Ernie Keck and his crew had worked diligently to get as many roads cleared as possible.
“You’ve got a lot of road for a small amount of people,” said Crecelius.
A major concern is preserving roads, especially those with asphalt.
Crecelius said drivers use caution when plowing chip-and-seal roadways.
“Too heavy a truck can tear it up pretty easily, so they use a lighter truck,” he said, noting the county has a significant number of chip-and-seal roads.
The county does not have as many miles of paved roads, but is intent on preserving what it does have.
“We don’t want to destroy any roads,” said Crecelius. “There’s so much invested in it. It’s a big deal if we lose any road over this.”