Icy treachery for traffic

-A A +A

Fast-cooling roads cause numerous accidents, strand motorists

By Lisa King

Shelby County looked more like tundra than bluegrass Tuesday morning, with cars stuck everywhere, wheels spinning on glassy roadways and students getting a day at home.


"It was terrible," Simpsonville Police Chief Scott Chappell said. "We had cars stuck everywhere, and even a guy who went over a guard rail and flipped over."

Shelby County Sheriff Mike Armstrong said his deputies had been working frantically all morning, working their areas and helping city police as well.

"There were cars stuck going up hills, going down hills, losing control, sliding off the roads, getting stuck," he said.

Early Tuesday morning, roads wet with falling sleet and snow suddenly were made treacherous by dropping temperatures. What didn’t seem to be such a problem before 6 a.m. froze into a nightmare for commuters.

Shelby County schools were closed, and a drive that usually took 15 minutes turned into more than an hour because of drivers faced with caution and calamity.

Shelbyville Police Department's Maj. D. Goodwin said he could not even begin to estimate the number of calls that had come in for help from stranded motorists.

"I don't know how many we had, but between us and the county, there's been cars off the road left and right," he said. "About 7 o'clock this morning, it got really nasty, when people started waking up and going to work. We were expecting just flurries last night and lots of people got surprised with how slick it was."

"Slicker 'n snot," Road Department Supervisor Carl Henry agreed.

Henry, along with Shelbyville City Engineer Jennifer Herrell with the city's public works department, had decided not to put down brine, a substance that helps prevent ice from forming on roadways.

"Nobody put down any brine because we weren't expecting much, just flurries," Henry said. "That's what the forecast was."

Said Herrell: "We were just expecting a dusting."

The forecasts for later this week are for more than a dusting. Early predictions from the National Weather Service call for Shelby County to receive at least two inches of snow on Thursday and Friday, with some suggestions being that it could be a much more significant amount than that.

Tuesday, though, it wasn’t the snow but the rapidly cooling conditions that made the roads perilous, and those roads required immediate attention.


Stranded motorists

But salt trucks couldn’t get to all the problem areas quickly enough, their missions further hampered by drivers in distress along the way.

Emergency Management Agency Director Charlie Frazee said some of the worst problem areas were Interstate 64 – where ramps were closed and an accident limited the eastbound side to a crawl near the Jefferson Count line – Bagdad and Simpsonville.

"We had a salt truck with problems this morning," said Mark Brown, an information officer with the Transportation Cabinet. "A hydraulic hose went out. It's a common malfunction. It went out when we were plowing U.S. 60. Don't know how long it took [to repair."

In Simpsonville, Chappell reported the worst areas as being I-64, Taylorsville Road, U.S. 60 and Clark Station Road.

"We had a car that overturned on Clark Station and Buck Creek," Chappell said. "But he was OK; he was going to work at the Kentucky Truck Plant, and he went over the guard rail."

Chappell added that the main problem with the roads wasn't the snow, but the ice.

"The problem was when we plowed, there was ice under the snow," he said.

He added that despite all the people who had gotten stranded and had accidents, no one had been badly injured.

"We must be living right," he said.

Goodwin said the same scenario prevailed in the city.

"Not so many fender benders – the majority of our calls this morning has been people running off the roads."

Armstrong said he was also relieved there were no major accidents.

"The road department did a great job, but it didn't hit until morning rush hour, and it was hard for the road department to deal with the roads in all that traffic," he said. "But at least school was out, so it could have been a whole lot worse."


School canceled

Gary Kidwell, director of student accounting and support services, said he and other school officials made the decision to cancel classes after observing the weather since 4 a.m.

"Typically, when it's borderline, we go out and look at the roads," he said. "First, we decided school should be in session, then it started getting a little bit slick, so we thought maybe a one-hour delay. Then at about 5:30, the National Weather Service said temperatures were going to drop, so we decided not to risk it."

Duanne Puckett, community relations coordinator for Shelby County Public Schools, said that when weather conditions are bad, school officials go to great lengths to make sure roads are safe for school buses.

"We have a team that goes way out in the county because those roads are the most treacherous," she said. "Because while the roads in the subdivisions might look good, some of the county roads could be very hazardous, and our guys have the safety of all our students in mind."


More snow coming

Henry said at 10 a.m. Tuesday that the roads were in good shape, but it had been rough going earlier.

"The state had a bit of a rough time, and we've been trying to help them; they had some breakdowns and things," he said. "The thing is, it turned to black ice, especially down toward Louisville, It was a real mess down there."

Henry added that another storm is expected to roll in by this weekend.

"We are prepared and ready for it," he said.

Rumors seem rampant that the next snow could be significant.

"There's a vicious rumor going around that we're going to get a foot of snow," Frazee said. "But I think no more than six inches is much more likely."

Joe Sullivan, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Louisville, admitted that no one knows for sure what's coming, but something is.

"It's a big 'If' right now, because there are a pretty wide range of possibilities right now," he said Tuesday. "But currently, the forecast for Shelby County this weekend is calling for around two inches. It could be up to four inches, but I think two is a safe bet right now."