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June 2012
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Crews work to clear dangerous roadways

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

The latest snow, freezing rain and sleet has road crews scraping the bottom of the salt barrels as they wait and hope for more supplies.

Snow and ice that covered the region Sunday brought treacherous roads and headaches for local road crews so close to the end of winter.

In Paducah, city crews continue combatting snow-packed roads amid a salt shortage. City Engineer and Public Works Director Rick Murphy said crews pre-treated roads with salt Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the weather. The city had about 150 tons of salt prior to this weather system and has less than 100 tons remaining, which would allow crews to treat the main routes Monday night and today before the supply runs dry.

"We are virtually out of salt and will have nothing to treat the roads, but that's a universal issue in this part of the country," he said.

The city has been prioritizing and treating main roads, which takes about 100 tons and eight hours, while officials await another shipment of salt. Murphy said he ordered 200 tons of salt two weeks ago and then another 200 tons. He received 84 tons from the first order which is currently being used but hasn't received the remaining 316 tons. He said there is a national shortage of available salt resources and hasn't heard when the city will received the additional supplies.

Murphy said the city's requested annual amount of salt is based on previous years. The city typically order 500 tons per year with some left in reserve but has used more than 1,000 tons this winter. He added that this winter is the harshest for Paducah in more than 30 years.

"There has been an enormous amount of snow, and city, county and state plows are doing the best they can," he said. "We are asking the Paducah public to be as patient and understanding as they can."

Crews in McCracken County worked throughout the night and all day Monday to clear the snow and put salt down to help break up about a 2-inch layer of ice and sleet below, according to county road supervisor Perry Mason. He said crews are divided into groups then assigned certain areas, starting with the priority routes.

Mason said although his crews have been hard at work, progress has been somewhat slow because ice is more difficult to break up than snow. The county supply of salt is about 50 to 60 tons, enough to weather the current storm.

"We have enough to get through this storm so I'm not concerned yet, but we need some help from the weather," he said.

The department has been trying to conserve by mixing salt with sand, according to Mason. Road conditions will not improve significantly until warmer temperatures move into area by Wednesday, with predicted highs in the upper 30s.

McCracken County Emergency Management Director Jerome Mansfield commended the progress of crews clearing the more than 800 miles of roadway.

"The crew has worked very hard but because of the single digit temperatures in the forecast the roads will remain treacherous with the possibility of traffic accidents," he said.

Russ Brower, Mayfield public works director, said roads around the city remained dangerous as of Monday afternoon with crews working on the priority roads, which includes those with hospitals or nursing homes. Crews plowed those routes, then salted them in anticipation of refreezing overnight. The current salt supply is sufficient for this storm, he said.

Highway crews from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet worked treating and plowing the A, B and C priority routes beginning about 7 a.m. Monday but some C roads would be delayed until today, according to spokesman Keith Todd. He said the condition of roads improved significantly throughout the day but the chance for refreezing and black ice remained.

District 1, which includes 12 counties, had about 5,500 tons of salt before the last round of winter weather. During the average snow and ice accumulation, crews use between 1,500 and 2,000 tons a day, which would leave salt inventories low for the rest of the season, according to Todd.

He said an inventory of about 5,000 tons would typically be more than adequate, but this winter has included several multiple-day falling of snow and ice. Crews are working to conserve salt because another winter storm would eliminate the rest of the supply. Todd also expressed concern about a heightened demand for salt nationally and the inability to access more if needed.

Curtis "Tony" Hamilton, owner of BA's Automotive Service in Paducah, reported an increase in calls of cars off the road after midnight from a daily average of five to more than 25. Andy Brady, an employee at Hippies in Paducah, said the company was extremely busy throughout Monday with extra staff responding to calls of cars sliding into ditches and drivers that couldn't navigate outside their driveways.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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