The Republic Masthead

Slippery roadways tough on motorists

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About 10 inches of snow plus rain, sleet and ice created treacherous driving conditions between Friday and Monday, which rural Bartholomew County drivers had a particularly tough time navigating.

By an almost 2-to-1 margin, more snow-related accidents occurred in rural Bartholomew County than in the city of Columbus.

Police reported that 136 accidents occurred between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, and 66 percent of them took place outside the Columbus city limits.

The figures show that more than 65 percent of the accidents were classified as slide-offs, while 31 percent were deemed property-damage accidents. Five accidents, all of which occurred outside the city, resulted

in injuries.

Many of the slide-offs in Bartholomew County took place on Interstate 65, said Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police and Fire departments.

A key reason why county roads were slicker was the treatment used by the different road crews, said Danny Hollander, Bartholomew County engineer.

County crews used three parts sand to one part salt in the mixture spread on rural roads, while the city crews used an all-salt mixture, Hollander said.

Sand usually provides vehicles with additional traction and is considerably more cost-efficient that using all salt, Hollander said. The city doesn’t use sand because it would eventually make its way into sewers and damage infrastructure, Hollander said.

But county crews did not anticipate the misty frozen sleet that fell across the region late Sunday across the region, causing a layer of ice to form on top of heavily compacted snow, said

Carl Lienhoop, president of the Bartholomew County Commissioners.

“It was a tough snow to get off,” Lienhoop said. “We had ice preceding the 10 inches of snow we received Friday. There was still a lot of traffic out over the weekend, so everything got packed down fairly quickly.”

In Hollander’s opinion, it was the prolonged length of Friday’s snowstorm into the evening that caused the worst problems. County road crews were unable to start treating roads until 7 p.m. Friday, with many working 12 hours on Saturday, he said.

“You want to wait until the waning hours of the snow to start treating roads, so you don’t repeat yourself,” Lienhoop said.

Due to time constraints, which were hampered by Sunday’s frozen sleet, county crews concentrated mostly on the main roads over the weekend and are expected to get to less-traveled roads later this week, Hollander said.

“Nobody got treated better or worse than anyone else,” Lienhoop said. “The side roads in my area (eastern portion of county) are still very treacherous.”

While frozen precipitation that fell over the weekend was spread out fairly evenly across the county, hilly areas in western Bartholomew County were more difficult to travel than the flatter eastern sections, said Chief Deputy Todd Noblitt of the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

That was evident Monday morning when a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. school bus became temporarily stuck at the top of an untreated steep hill along County Road 580W. That hill always has been difficult to climb after winter storms, according to the BCSC transportation department.

The only school transportation problems experienced Monday were delays caused by drivers who were traveling much slower than normal, according to the transportation department.

While few accidents were reported either in the city or county Monday morning, Noblitt believes it was in the students’ best interest to delay the start of classes at most schools by two hours Monday.

“That delay gives road crews extra time to treat the roads before the school buses get out,” Noblitt said. “In addition, vehicular traffic (during morning rush hour) also helped to clear rural roads before the kids were picked up.”

During Monday’s commissioners meeting, Hollander noted that winter doesn’t officially arrive for another 12 days. But Lienhoop attempted to look at the months ahead more optimistically.

“We’ve seen years where we get all the snow in December, but then the weather gets better in January and February,” Lienhoop said. “We can only hope.”

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