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Winter storm clearing results 'unacceptable' in parts of state, agency admits

Highway Department must do 'better job,' director says

Posted: December 18, 2013 at 9:12 a.m.

Traffic moves slowly across the ice covered south bound lanes of interstate 540 south of Greenland after a December winter storm.

The results of efforts to clear highways after a winter storm dropped snow, sleet and freezing rain across much of Arkansas earlier this month was unacceptable in some places, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department acknowledged Wednesday.

“We did not achieve desirable or even acceptable results in some areas as our crews worked to clear highways during the recent winter storm,” Director Scott Bennett said in a statement. “We are aware of and frustrated by the unsatisfactory conditions that persisted too long in some areas. We also know situations like this create perceptions that can only be addressed by improving the results we achieve, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Wintry precipitation began falling Dec. 5 and spread throughout Arkansas in the next day, coating highways with ice and snow and leading many schools, businesses and offices to close for days.

Despite the problems, Bennett defended the department's efforts, noting crews "worked around-the-clock" to try to improve the conditions.

“What we must do as an agency is to make sure we provide our crews with the proper tools to address these storms,” Bennett said in the statement. “We are a Southern state — we will never have the amount of dedicated snow and ice fighting equipment as our neighbors to the north — but we must make sure we utilize the resources we do have available to the best of our ability.”

Bennett said his agency has been in contact with Missouri to learn "best practices" for dealing with slick conditions. As a result, the Arkansas agency has used a mixture of beet juice and salt to pretreat roads and has purchased equipment to spread the mixture before storms hit.

Those strategies were used before the latest storm, but even they "did not fare well with the ice accumulations we experienced," Bennett said.

“Our goal moving forward is to achieve better results when addressing winter weather conditions on our State highways,” Bennett said. “Every storm is different and provides unique challenges, and no state is 100 percent successful all the time. But our most recent results were unacceptable in some areas, and we know we must do a better job for our citizens.”

Several new, specialized plows could help with future responses, the agency said.

Six new plows with a blade mounted underneath the truck have been received or will be soon. Only one of the new vehicles, which are said to be better at clearing ice, was in service for the last round of storms, but Bennett said the department is "encouraged" by its performance.

A new "tow plow" is also expected to be operational by Jan. 1. That vehicle, which can clear multiple travel lanes in one pass, will be primarily used on Interstates 40 and 540 in Northwest Arkansas, Bennett's statement said.

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