Transportation department prepares for possible outbreak of icy roads

The Texas Department of Transportation is ramping up its preparations for icy weather, even as residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth area continue to enjoy seasonably mild weather.

Eventually, the harsh, icy weather will get here -- right? -- and the agency responsible for maintaining more than 70,000 miles of roadway statewide will be expected to be ready.

The forecast for today calls for sunny skies and highs around 55, with a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after midnight.

Christmas Day is expected to bring rain showers before noon, then a dusting of snow with a high in the upper 40s, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

In the North Texas region, which includes Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding counties, 29 snowplows are available.

More can be called in from places such as Amarillo if a storm is severe enough, agency spokesman Val Lopez said.

"If the storm is bad enough, we are able to flex our manpower where it is needed the most," Lopez said.

During the week of the 2011 Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, transportation department crews from across the state stayed in the Metroplex for several days, working in shifts to try to keep the roads clear for commuters and hundreds of thousands of tourists.

This year, the agency has a stockpile of liquid magnesium chloride, which can be sprayed on roads as an ice preventative or used in higher concentration to break up ice that has already formed.

The agency uses a truck equipped with hoses and pipes on the front end to spray herbicide in warmer months, and a different set of pipes and nozzles on the rear end to spray magnesium chloride during an ice event.

"It comes out at the same rate, so the difference between pre-treating the roads to prevent ice and de-icing -- or removing the ice that's already there -- is a matter of how fast you drive," said Vernon Wells, a transportation department maintenance technician. "For de-icing you drive about 10 miles per hour. For pre-treating you drive about 40 to 45 mph."

The agency also has several large piles of sand, and a sand-salt mixture known as chat, to spread on roads.

In all, the battle to keep Metroplex roads open during icy weather is fought with these stockpiles:

29 snowplows -- 15 in the Fort Worth district and 14 in the Dallas district.

28,058 cubic yards of chat.

19,000 gallons of liquid magnesium chloride.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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