As of Sunday there have been 21 vehicle accidents on the Kenai Peninsula following the Saturday rain and the subsequent freeze-thaw cycles, said Megan Peters, Alaska State Troopers spokesperson.
“It’s the change of conditions that present the most hazards,” said Rick Feller, Alaska Department of Transportation spokesperson.
During the day, Feller said temperatures have jumped above freezing, flooding the roadways with water from melting snow and ice; then, at night, as the temperature drops, the roads begin to freeze.
It is that cycle, he said, that has caked most of the Peninsula’s roadways in inches of ice.
“Normally we get it (each year,)” said Mark “Curly” Langfitt, the city of Kenai streets department foreman. “It’ll go away, and we’ll get it again.”
Often, also, much of the rain water that is freezing on the roads flows down culverts and storm drains. But, because the ice sometimes thaws from the surface down, many drains remain clogged during the day and the water instead flows down trenches in the road, Feller said. As a result, much of DOT’s time maintaining the roads is spent unplugging the iced-over drains, he said.
To improve traction on the roads, Langfitt said his Kenai street crew lay down tons of sand. He said his crew spent 10 hours with two trucks Saturday dispersing sand.
Kenai City Manager Rick Koch said the city spends about $200,000 a year in sand.
Often Kenai crews only drop sand at intersections, Langfitt said, but because icy trenches have been forming in the roads making it more difficult to drive straight, his crews have been dropping sand on the entire length of icy roads.
When vehicles do slide off the road, Central Emergency Services Safety Officer Brad Nelson said there is a roughly $50 investment all drivers can make to facilitate the recovery process.
All drivers, he said, should carry a kit. In that kit should be warm gloves, a flashlight, flares or something to mark the accident, a safety vest, a snow shovel, a tow strap, and kitty litter or salt for additional traction.
Some retailers sell ready-made kits, but he said drivers can make their own. If drivers buy kitty litter, though, he said they need to ensure it is a brand that will not crumble when it becomes wet. Also, he said, drivers should avoid tow ropes because straps are stronger and less likely to fray.
Nelson said those who buy the kits should place them in the center of their vehicles — not in the back — to place the weight evenly over the vehicle’s axles for better traction.
But to avoid using the kit, Langfitt said drivers need to just pay attention.
“You just got to drive with caution in weather like this,” Langfitt said.
Peters stressed that point. She said drivers should slow down and know what the conditions are ahead of them to avoid being caught off guard.
“The roads are only as safe as the drivers on them,” she said. “They need to be patient.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org