Roadways likely to remain slippery over Christmas

Friday, December 24, 2004

Even though the snow and ice stopped falling in Southeast Missouri early Thursday morning, the roads still aren't completely clear -- or completely safe.

Officials stress that motorists traveling today and throughout the weekend should use extreme caution, as some roads may still be covered or have "black ice" for several days -- especially when night falls and temperatures near zero sweep in.

Salt applied to the roadways will have little effect when those temperatures start to get that low, said Mike Helpingstine, an operations engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Salt's effectiveness starts to decrease dramatically at about 20 degrees and becomes almost completely ineffective at about 15 degrees.

That doesn't bode well for holiday travelers.

Just ask Tim Beeney, who makes his living on the roads. The truck driver from Henderson, Ky., got his tractor-trailer stuck while turning right onto William Street from Kingshighway in Cape Girardeau Thursday afternoon.

"I'm just trying to get home," Beeney said. "I still have two more stops to make before I can go there. My family's waiting on me."

Beeney, who drives for Lewis Bakers, had traveled from Evansville, Ind., before coming to Cape Girardeau, and had a trip of about four hours to get home through some of the areas hardest hit by winter storms. He was stuck for about one hour before his truck was freed after much pulling, shoveling and a healthy dose of rock salt from a city street department truck.

"I've been stuck before," said Ben Ressel of Oran, who was finally able to pull Beeney's rig free with his full-size pickup. "He's just trying to get home for Christmas."

In situations like this, it's almost a duty to help other people, said Don Qualls of Cape Girardeau, who also worked to free Beeney's truck, breaking one of his towing chains in the process.

"I saw he was hung up, so I just backed up and hooked on," Qualls said. "It's just a case of neighbor helping neighbor. It never hurts to help."

People like Beeney have no choice but to get out on the slick roads, but officials are encouraging anyone who can stay off the roadways to do so today, at least until later in the day.

"The roadways are still ice-covered and snow-packed," Sgt. Rick Schmidt of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said Thursday afternoon. "People need to allow extra time to get where they're going and keep in mind that they'll have to slow down."

All throughout Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, crews working to clear local roads and highways were fighting an uphill battle.

"The drifting snow and the low visibility were the worst," said Helpingstine with MoDOT. "We would get the snow plowed off a road, and the wind would blow it right back on. We had some of our own people who ended up in ditches."

Some MoDOT personnel couldn't get out of their own homes to get to the office on Thursday.

Helpingstine said east-west routes were the worst, since they collected most of the drifting snow. Those traveling on secondary routes faced a much harder time.

"The principal routes have taken up a good deal of our resources," Helpingstine said. "We had a really hard time clearing off any of Interstate 55. But now the bulk of them are in fairly good condition."

The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported numerous accidents Wednesday night and early Thursday morning, and help was sometimes hard to find.

"It was one of the worst things we've seen on the interstate," said patrol dispatcher Tim Meyer of Poplar Bluff. "There were some vehicles stuck in four or five feet drifts, so we just had to leave them there. Some of the wreckers also got stuck trying to pull people out."

Blocking I-55

Meyer said Thursday afternoon that Interstate 55 was still covered with snow and ice south of Benton and that a tractor-trailer had jackknifed on the road Thursday afternoon, delaying traffic for hours.

The winter storm also delayed area mail delivery.

Mail trucks from the Bootheel couldn't get to the mail processing center in Cape Girardeau Wednesday night because of road conditions, said local postmaster Mike Keefe.

Letter carriers will make every effort to deliver Christmas mail, even on Christmas Day, Keefe said.

Plenty of sun helped to clear some roads Thursday, but they were quickly re-frozen as extremely frigid temperatures spread around the area Thursday night and early today.

"The sun made a lot of difference," said Steve Cook, assistant public works director for Cape Girardeau. "The primary roads are about 75 percent in good shape. Most of the secondary roads are passable. It's moving along real good."

Jackson officials reported much the same thing, but said that some of the residential roads in subdivisions may still be covered until today.

"Most of the roads have at least been plowed," said Jackson city administrator Jim Roach. "Some have yet to be fully open."

In Cape Girardeau several cars lost traction throughout the day at intersections as the slush was especially concentrated. The worst by far, said Schmidt, was the intersection of William and Broadview streets near Applebee's restaurant. Police are advising motorists to avoid that intersection as much as possible.

The situation is even worse for people living on county roads, as some of them still couldn't leave their homes Thursday.

"I give it one more day and I think everybody will be able to get in and out," said Larry Bock, first district county commissioner. "We have several not open yet and we'll work through the night and into [today]. There are 420 miles of county roads, and we're trying to get them all open."

335-6611, extension 182

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