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Slick moves ditch drivers

Roads leave folks on thin ice

Posted: Friday, December 09, 2005


  Ed Hawkins spreads sand on his driveway on Kiana Lane in Kenai Thursday afternoon. Rain Wednesday night polished already icy roads, making driving conditions difficult in some areas. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Ed Hawkins spreads sand on his driveway on Kiana Lane in Kenai Thursday afternoon. Rain Wednesday night polished already icy roads, making driving conditions difficult in some areas.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Winter weather can be challenging to drive and walk in, but the current icy weather is making things even more difficult than usual, according to several local agencies and businesses.

“It’s kind of a bad situation everywhere,” said Brian Gabriel.

Gabriel is the station foreman with the Kenai-Soldotna Maintenance and Operations Division (M and O) of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the agency responsible for sanding many of the major paved roadways.

These roadways include the Sterling Highway, the Kenai Spur Highway, Kalifornsky Beach Road and Bridge Access Road, to name a few. The Kenai-Soldotna M and O also maintains many secondary paved roads off of this system and a few gravel roads, as well.

Gabriel said the current weather pattern is difficult to contend with in regard to sanding.

“We’re busy around the clock and are pretty much sanding nonstop. We’ve put out an unbelievable amount of sand, (a total of) roughly 300 yards of sand a day” he said.

To get an idea of how much sand that is, Gabriel said their three sanding trucks, and a fourth that was expected to be up and running by Thursday, each hold 8 yards of sand, which will cover 8 miles when spread solidly over double lanes.

While it lasts, this sand makes surfaces less slick, but Gabriel said the problem is the sand isn’t lasting long.

“The temperatures keep fluctuating around 32 degrees. We’ll sand the ice, then it will rain and wash the sand off. Then it will freeze again forming a glaze of ice on the pavement,” he said.

Gabriel said it is not uncommon for his division to sand a road, only to get a call an hour later requesting the same road be sanded again.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of it, but it’s tough,” he said.

Kiven Olsen of Peninsula Towing said he’s been equally engaged in helping those that have gone off the roadway.

“It’s been extremely busy,” he said, and explained that while the main roads haven’t been much of a problem, side roads in subdivisions, unpaved roads in particular, are where many of the calls he’s responded to have come from.

“Business has been steady since (Wednesday) morning. A lot of it is people sliding off the road into the ditch. I’ve been doing about a dozen tows a day,” he said.

While a dozen tows is more than Olsen would normally do in a day, it’s not as many as he could normally do, but the icy weather has hindered his driving, and thus towing ability, as well.

“An average tow usually takes me 30 minutes, but now every tow is taking me two to three hours because I’ve got to go so slow and chain up and unchain my truck,” he said.

“Even with the chains, I’ve gone in the ditch three times myself while pulling someone out. It’s that slick. It just sucks you right in,” Olsen said.

The slick surfaces are equally challenging once drivers reach their destinations. Traversing parking lots or walking from the car to the front door at home can be quite a dicey endeavor without the aid of special footwear or using chemicals to contend with ice.

“Sales are booming,” said Dave Shaffer, store manager at Alaska Industrial Hardware in Kenai.

“We’ve probably sold a couple hundred sets of ice cleats. It’s tough keeping them on the shelves. Every time I turn around the shelf is empty and I have to put more out.

Shaffer said AIH also is selling tons — literally — of chemical ice melting products and gallons of washer fluid for windshields.

“Because of all the stuff they’re putting on the roads, it’s easy to go through a quart a day,” he said.

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