LITTLE ROCK, AR - The director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) has testified before some members of the legislature about how his agency responded to icy conditions last week that left many motorists stranded on interstates.
The March 2-3 winter storm left interstates and highways ice-covered over the northern half of Arkansas, particularly I-40 and I-55 in northeast Arkansas from West Memphis to the Missouri border. Many motorists were stuck in stalled traffic for several hours or more in the area.
AHTD Director Scott Bennett told a joint meeting of House and Senate members about how his agency handled the situation.
Bennett said if crews had been dispatched early, they would have gone to northwest Arkansas, where the storm moved into the state. Using a timeline and storm maps, he walked the lawmakers through what his agency had faced. One of the maps showed the heaviest sleet in Mississippi County as the storm headed out of the state.
Bennett also testified:
- Missouri had 8 "belly plows" in use on a 30-mile stretch north of the Arkansas border on I-55, while the AHTD had 6 "b-plows" statewide and none in Mississippi County.
- "Our efficiencies have become glaring deficiencies in storms like this." (Older fleet, fewer employees and trucks).
- To implement every strategy (more belly plows, more salt storage facilities, etc.) would cost $50-$60 million
The AHTD director said snow and ice removal totaled $18 million this year, a big increase from the $4.9 million in 2013.
Stan Witt, Director of the Arkansas State Police also testified. He told legislators that troopers encountered more problems on I-40 (31 accidents) than I-55. He said troopers couldn't drive on the shoulder of the interstate due to the ice and they had to walk to wake up big rig drivers after the interstate was clear.
Another interesting piece of information revealed in the meeting was that tow trucks were refusing to clear vehicles that were blocking roads without payment upfront.