Arkansas Highway Department Responds To Criticism Of Winter Storm Response

Dec 18, 2013

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is responding to criticism over road conditions during the winter storm in early December.

It was a photo circulating on social media sites that made the department feel it needed to put out a statement addressing the poor response.

"There was a photo that illustrated Highway 71 in Bella Visia at the Missouri state line. The Missouri side was clear and the Arkansas side still had snow and ice on it. That became a rallying point for folks who took note of that and said, 'Hey, what's going on here? How come Missouri can get the roads clear and Arkansas can't?'," says spokesman Danny Straessle.

The statement released by the Highway Department says the agency knows it did not achieve desirable or even acceptable results in some parts of the state with regard to clearing highways during the winter storm.

Straessle defends the response in central Arkansas, but says in northwest Arkansas the results were unsatisfactory.

The department says it believes the poor results were not due to a lack of effort by road crews, who it says worked around the clock to respond. The problem, Straessle says, is the crews lack the proper equipment and experience to address the storm.

"We don't have professional snow plow drivers here in Arkansas. The folks that are out there plowing the snow and the ice are the same folks driving these trucks to haul gravel. They're patching asphalt in the summer. They're hauling debris when storms litter the highways and things like that. Other states have snow plow jocks and they do this all the time," says Straessle. 

He says the department feels it's not cost effective or feasible for the state to invest in specialized snow and ice fighting equipment that would only be used a few times per year and has no practical applications for any other part of the year.

"The dump truck is the most versatile piece of equipment we can use because we can use it in the summer, we can use it in the spring, and then when the winter weather comes we can put a plow on it," says Straessle. 

He says the department is investing in a handful of belly plows, which are larger dump trucks that have a plow under the truck in addition to a plow on the front. He says there will be four or five of those by the first of the year. The department says that will lead to better results when addressing winter weather.

Also, a new tow plow that can clear multiple travel lanes in one pass is expected to be operational by the first of the year.