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Transportation crews ready to bust ice on DFW roads

Texas Department of Transportation crews will be out in force to combat an expected arrival of sleet and freezing rain late Sunday or early Monday.
Texas Department of Transportation crews will be out in force to combat an expected arrival of sleet and freezing rain late Sunday or early Monday. Star-Telegram archives

Road graders are being fueled. Trucks with liquid tanks are being filled with de-icing fluid.

A collection of manpower and machinery is being readied for action as officials from several agencies responsible for North Texas roads and bridges prepare to battle icy conditions that could slam the region during the next two days.

A winter storm warning has been issued from 6 p.m. Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday, and the National Weather Service cautions that ice-caked roads may greet commuters Monday morning.

“We’re aware that some weather is rolling in, so we have started some pre-treating,” said Val Lopez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation. “We will have full shifts coming in on Sunday and plan to work 24/7 until the weather gets better.”

The area may get more than a half-inch of freezing rain and sleet, meteorologists say.

“We think there will be sleet Monday morning, which could mess up the commute,” said Dan Shoemaker, a meteorologist with the weather service in Fort Worth.

Rain is in the forecast for much of Sunday, and it is expected to turn into a wintry mix late Sunday or early Monday. There is a 70 percent chance of freezing rain and sleet late Sunday, increasing to 80 percent Monday.

“It looks like it’ll be rain until around midnight,” Shoemaker said, before it turns to freezing rain and sleet.

Temperatures Sunday are expected to reach a high of 40, then dip into the mid-20s overnight. Monday’s high is not expected to be above freezing, setting the stage for a slippery day on North Texas roads.

Shoemaker said he would not be surprised if schools were closed Monday. Most school districts post weather-related closings on their websites and on social media.

Temperatures could remain below freezing until Tuesday afternoon.

Well-stocked

This is roughly the third time in recent months that crews from the Transportation Department and other agencies have activated their winter contingency plans. The two previous times — once in mid-November and the other on New Year’s Eve — the region experienced arctic temperatures but not enough frozen precipitation to close highways or schools on a wide scale.

The Transportation Department’s main campus on McCart Avenue in southwest Fort Worth, as well as other maintenance areas, is well-stocked with supplies to fight bad weather, Lopez said.

About 37 tons of salt, sand and de-icing chemicals are stockpiled. Up to 230 workers can be mobilized on short notice to hop aboard dump trucks, road graders and other vehicles to treat frozen highways.

The department spent $8.1 million on equipment, supplies and labor during the biggest ice storm of 2013.

Agencies responsible for roads learned a powerful lesson in December 2013, when the region was slapped with a storm that became known as “Icemageddon” and the roads were covered with a 4-inch layer of “cobblestone ice.”

Brine on tollways

The North Texas Tollway Authority, which manages toll roads across the region — including the new Chisholm Trail Parkway in southwest Fort Worth — has been pre-treating roads since Thursday, spokesman Michael Rey said. Crews will be called in at midday Sunday if necessary to keep roads clear, he said.

This is the first winter that the tollway authority is spraying brine on bridges and overpasses to prevent icing, Rey said. The saltwater solution dries, leaving a barrier on the road that can lower the freezing point if precipitation falls.

The authority is based in Plano but manages many roads throughout the Metroplex, including the Dallas North Tollway, the Sam Rayburn Tollway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

Keeping transit running

Officials responsible for buses and trains in the Fort Worth area are also preparing for the worst.

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, will be ready with sand trucks and extra bus operators and maintenance crews, spokeswoman Joan Hunter said.

Bus routes could change if ice becomes a problem in specific areas, such as hilly roads, she said. Riders may experience some delays, but buses typically manage to keep rolling during winter weather.

The Trinity Railway Express, a diesel-powered commuter train that runs from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas, often operates with few problems during snowy or icy weather. The TRE, however, is closed on Sundays.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

Cold-weather driving

Common sense goes a long way when it comes to driving in icy conditions. The best advice is to stay home. But if you have to venture out, here are some tips:

▪ Posted speed limits are based on good-weather conditions. So with ice on the roads, it’s wise to drive well below what’s legally allowed.

▪ Keep your distance from the car ahead of you: Triple however much space you would typically leave.

▪ Watch for ice removal equipment and give those vehicles lots of space.

▪ Remember that bridges ice first because cold air is flowing both above and below the elevated roadway.

▪ If you slide, ease off the gas pedal and resist the urge to brake. Steer in the direction of the skid until your car regains traction, then straighten out.

▪ Call the state hotline at 800-452-9292 for the latest information. For nonemergency roadside assistance, call the Texas Department of Public Safety at 800-525-5555. On social media, follow @TxDot on Twitter.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

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