Morning commute done, workers scramble to clear freeways

Posted Monday, Dec. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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With a slippery Monday morning rush hour over, Texas Department of Transportation workers were fanning out across Tarrant County in an attempt to clear the freeways of large chunks of ice that made the morning commute a crawl across many bridges and overpasses.

The Fort Worth Police Department posted a tweet about 10 a.m. Monday that bridges along Interstate 20, I-30, I-35W and Loop 820, would be shut down at various times Monday to allow crews to work.

“These are not going to be long closures,” said TxDOT spokesman Val Lopez. “These various bridges and interchanges will be closed briefly to give oru crews a chance to work.”

TxDOT is deploying these “rolling task forces” that consist of road graders and other equipment to try and scrape away large chunks of ice while the temperatures are above freezing.

Though road conditions were better for the Monday morning commute, there were still problems lingering from the deadly ice storm that sent temperatures plunging and formed a thick sheet of ice on North Texas roads.

I-30 westbound was briefly closed Monday morning near the Montgomery exit because of stranded vehicles and traffic also moved slowly through downtown Fort Worth on eastbound I-30 during rush hour, according to the Fort Worth police.

There were other reports of slow-moving traffic along I-20 in south Arlington and south Fort Worth this morning. In far norht Fort Worth, traffic was stopped early Monday along Texas 170 near Interstate 35W, where a number of 18-wheelers parked for the night.

“Traffic is moving. but it is not at highway speeds.” Lopez said earlier Monday. “Drivers still need to be careful and should delay their commute to work until later this morning if they possibly can. As it gets above freezing, we’re going to get back out there and make another push at getting this ice off of the roadways.”

On some highway overpasses, there are still large chunks of cobblestone ice, making it difficult to cross some bridges.

But TxDOT crews were helped by temperatures near freezing overnight in the heart of the DFW area that allowed crews to work throughout the evening and into the morning.

“When it gets down in the mid- to low-20s, this ice becomes like concrete,” Lopez said. “But when it’s closer to freezing, the plows or graders can still work on the roads.”

Temperatures will climb above freezing for eight to 10 hours Monday, which will signifcantly improve road conditions on major highways and neighborhood streets. But whatever is still on the roads will refreeze Monday night with lows ranging everywhere from the teens in outlying areas to mid-20s in the Metroplex.

“It will refreeze and be rock-hard out there tonight,” said Joe Harris, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “It will be like concrete again.”

That is why TxDOT crews were working on rolling task forces Monday in an attempt to rid roads of all of the cobblestone ice before it refreezes.

“You just bound around on it and then you start sliding,” said Harris who has battled it driving to the Weather Service offices in north Fort Worth.

Some thawing occurred Sunday as temperatures inched above freezing.

At DFW Airport, about 350 flights were canceled Monday morning but 500 departures are scheduled. The airport has four runways open.

The number of passengers who spent the night at DFW dropped to about 650 Sunday night.

Driving will still be especially hazardous on residential streets early today.

“There is still a hill just outside our offices that is incredibly difficult to get up,” said Fano at the National Weather Service in north Fort Worth. “So you need to be aware that while highways may be fine, you could have problems on residential streets or close to work.”

Authorities said the frigid weather and treacherous road conditions have been blamed for several deaths in North Texas during the weekend.

And about 20,000 were still without power across North Texas early Monday.

Most of the school districts in the Tarrant County area also decided by early Sunday evening that they will be closed again. Officials at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas said they will be closed. TCU planned to open at 10:30 a.m.

Fort Worth city offices will not be open, but Tarrant County offices will open at noon. Garbage and recycling pickups in Fort Worth have been pushed up a day.

Deaths and rash of accidents

MedStar paramedics have been swamped with calls since Thursday, when the Arctic blast arrived.

As of 9 a.m. Monday, MedStar had responded to 110 wrecks in the Tarrant County area, most of them caused by the weather.

Authorities say the weather also is to blame for several traffic deaths, including a fatal wreck in Arlington on Friday. Another driver died Saturday when a pickup fell into Lake Lewisville.

A 26-year-old man was killed early Sunday in a traffic accident at Preston and Royal in Dallas, and a 75-year-old woman died in the Bluffview neighborhood after she slipped on the ice in her front yard, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Other traffic deaths have been reported in other parts of Texas because of icy roads. One person was killed in a 10-car pileup on Interstate 10 in West Texas about 160 miles east of El Paso.

As the ice has stuck around, North Texans have been hurting themselves falling. As of Monday morning, MedStar had responded to 153 such calls. Eight people also have been treated for exposure, according to MedStar officials.

One area that has been a nightmare throughout the ice storm has been Interstate 20 west of Fort Worth. Over the weekend, cars and trucks were stranded and Ranger Hill, a dangerous section of roadway 90 miles west of Fort Worth, was shut down. But on Monday, conditions had imrproved enough that traffic was making it from Fort Worth to Abilene.

“It is moving,” said Gary Rozzell, a senior trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety. “Even Ranger Hill is open this morning. It may not be moving very fast up and down that hill but it is moving.”

Ice work

State Transportation Department crews worked throughout the weekend with graders and plows to try and clear highways of ice.

For North Texas, Lopez estimated that the department had almost 1,100 pieces of equipment and 1,700 employees working to clear roads.

In the Metroplex, the agency had 35 pieces of heavy equipment on highways Sunday and 300 sand trucks and pickups with 600 drivers. In Fort Worth, 130 pieces of equipment with 200 operators were deployed.

“As long as temperatures will allow, we’ll use the blades to clear ice,” Lopez said. “When it freezes up again, we’ll stop with the graders and bring in the trucks to put sand down.”

Department crews staged rolling roadblocks on all major roadways across DFW on Sunday, but those efforts were hampered by 18-wheelers stuck on some highways.

Some of the truckers were stuck 24 hours; a four-mile section of Interstate 35W near Heritage Trace and Golden Triangle Boulevard in north Fort Worth was temporarily closed Sunday morning.

In Parker and Palo Pinto counties, Lopez said, crews were working with shovels in some places to try to move stranded vehicles. But traffic was moving Monday along I-20, Lopez said.

For the second consecutive day, the parking lot at the Pilot Travel Center in Weatherford was packed with trucks Sunday.

“The parking lot is full and there’s a line to the interstate for other trucks to get in,” employee Casey Robinson said.

Fort Worth city workers continued checking roads and bridges and using trucks to sand icy locations. The crews have been rotating continuously since 5:30 p.m. Thursday, city spokesman Bill Begley said.

The city had checked on 297 locations, sanded 93 sites and used 194 tons of sand as of Sunday morning, he said.

“We encourage citizens to give themselves extra time, watch their speed and to always drive carefully” on their way to work, Fort Worth police spokesman Daniel Segura said.

Highway road crews continued Sunday evening to work on Interstate 35 north of Dallas-Fort Worth and on U.S. 75 in Sherman and Denison.

Flight cancellations

The weather continued to snarl travel at the airport on Sunday, as 400 more departures were canceled.

Three runways were fully operational even though a light freezing drizzle was falling early in the morning.

“DFW crews look to take advantage of five hours of above freezing temperatures that will help with efforts to remove ice,” the airport said in a statement Sunday morning.

The airport said about 2,000 passengers stayed in the terminals overnight, down from about 3,000 on Friday evening. The airport continues to provide cots, toiletry items and free entertainment for stranded passengers.

According to Flightstats.com, American Airlines had canceled 618 flights systemwide and American Eagle, 453.

Still powerless

Oncor officials said power outages across the Fort Worth and Dallas areas were about 21,000 by Monday morning, down from a peak of more than 200,000 Friday. In Tarrrant County, fewer than 100 were without power at 10:30 a.m. Monday, according to Oncor.

The company had hoped to have the power back on for everyone by Sunday night, but spokeswoman Jeamy Molina warned that more outages were possible as tree limbs break and fall on power lines.

More than 5,000 Oncor personnel, contractors and mutual-assistance partners were working on the outages Sunday, with more on the way, Molina said. Workers were coming from Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana.

Officials at Texas Huguley Hospital in Burleson had to use emergency power Sunday when the power went out.

Homeless people also overwhelmed Fort Worth’s three shelters, and the city opened the Bertha Collins Community Center as an emergency shelter. It had more than enough cots to handle the 910 or so people who sought shelter, said Cindy Crain, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition.

Staff writers Domingo Ramirez, Andrea Ahles, Max Baker, Steve Campbell and Caty Hirst contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698 Twitter: @fwhanna

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