With little rest, MoDOT shifts to second storm attack
‘No travel’ advisory issued
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
The second major winter storm in a week didn’t give state transportation officials much time to consider a job “well done” from the first one.
“MoDOT is prepared and will activate crews to plow and treat roads as soon as possible,” state Maintenance Engineer Elizabeth Wright said in a Sunday night news release. “Unfortunately, the combination of strong winds and heavy snowfall means whiteout conditions may occur.
“That makes travel extremely hazardous and makes clearing roads very difficult.”
As forecasters over the weekend predicted this week’s second dose of possible blizzard conditions and foot-deep accumulations in the northwestern part of Missouri, MoDOT officials began transferring equipment — and personnel — to central and northern Missouri from parts of the state that were expected to miss the heart of the second storm.
But, by Monday afternoon, MoDOT had updated its travel advice to Missourians.
“Due to expected hazardous conditions, the Missouri Department of Transportation has issued a ‘no travel advisory,’” the state agency said. “This storm will affect western, northern and central portions of the state.
“The highest accumulations are expected north of U.S. 54, including Interstate 70 from Kansas City to Kingdom City, I-35 and I-29. Kansas City, Columbia and Kirksville could see 8-13 inches of snow.”
But, based on last week’s work, Wright said, MoDOT crews are ready.
“Crews did a good job, overall, keeping up with the (last) storm and clearing roads and bridges,” Wright said Monday. “We strongly believe that we delivered great customer service, especially given the size and varied precipitation of this particular storm.
“Every major corridor was cleared within 24 hours of the first snowflake.”
Wright said the road crews last week “responded according to the conditions,” as the storm “hit each area of the state a little differently.”
For instance, she said: “In Mid-Missouri, crews headed out on state roads starting at 11 p.m. Wednesday.
“By Friday morning, major roads in Central Missouri were mostly clear and trucks had treated all the numbered and lettered routes at least once.”
In almost all parts of the state, last week’s storm began with heavy snow, creating special challenges “because a great deal of snow fell in a short amount of time,” Wright added. “One of the biggest challenges came in the Columbia area, where an accident with a jack-knifed tractor-trailer, compounded by multiple slide-offs and falling snow, caused traffic to back up in all directions at the I-70/U.S. 63 connector.
“Because of the backup, it was difficult to get our trucks into the area. Once in, we had to spend a great deal of time removing abandoned vehicles from the road in order to plow.”
And that experience helped lead to Monday’s no-travel advisory.
“We will target messages more heavily toward encouraging motorists to avoid travel if at all possible,” Wright said Monday, “as well as urging travelers to stay with the vehicle if they become stranded.
“MoDOT has towing companies on standby, to assist if needed.”
Even as crews were finishing cleanup work Monday — so there are places to put new snow — Wright said: “On Saturday, we began regular, statewide conference calls to discuss preparations for the coming storm.
“We also made arrangements to send additional crews and equipment to areas that are expected to be most strongly impacted.”
Last week’s storm was the first big test of the department’s new operations plan, under its “Bolder Five Year Direction” plan, and Wright said things went well.
“We maintained the level of service we are expected to provide,” she said. “The reorganization did not affect our ‘boots on the ground’ staffing levels, but it caused us to work differently, including calling in and deploying crews sooner than in the past, “to make sure they are in the field when plowing/treating needs to begin.”
Wright reminded Missourians that MoDOT has modified its snow-plowing policy.
“(The) statewide plan of attack remains the same as in previous years,” she said. “Crews focus on treating the highest-traveled major routes and regionally-significant roads first — until they are mostly clear.
“All the remaining, less-traveled roads will be plowed to allow for two-way traffic — concentrating on hills, curves and intersections.”
Wright said MoDOT’s plan schedules employees to work around the clock — until the most-traveled state roadways are restored to a mostly clear condition, and lower volume routes are plowed and treated.”
Once a storm is over, she said, MoDOT reduces the pressure on its crews, by cutting the employees back to “regular business hours — to clean up accumulation on shoulders, bridge edges and interchanges.”