Road crews battle bitter cold, snow drifts

Published 10:20 am Monday, February 23, 2015

Star Photo/Brandon Hicks Billy Bowers uses a front end loader to rplenish the salt/chat mixture for a highway department dump truck.

Star Photo/Brandon Hicks
Billy Bowers uses a front end loader to rplenish the salt/chat mixture for a highway department dump truck.

Cold temperatures are hindering efforts to clear roadways across the county and stockpiles of road treating materials are dwindling as road crews work to keep motorists safe.

“When it’s this cold there is really not much we can do,” Carter County Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh said. “(Salt) won’t work with it this cold.”

The county uses a treatment material mixture that is 25 percent salt and 75 percent block dust, which is also known as “chat,” Colbaugh said. The salt helps to melt the snow while the chat helps to provide traction for vehicles.

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Plowing the roads when the temperatures drop into the teens and single digits is also not as effective, Colbaugh said. Snow and ice on the roads have become compacted, Colbaugh said, and it is difficult for the plows to break it up.

“If we were to scrape it, we would scrape off the rock we’ve already put on it and just make it worse,” he said, adding that scraping would create a slicker surface on the ice and compact it further.

To help improve safety until the temperatures allow for plowing and salting, Colbaugh said his crews are working to lay chat on the roads.

“That’s about all we can do until it warms up,” Colbaugh said. “If the sun were to come out to help heat up the pavement or if the temperature were to warm up we may be able to plow it.”

The Highway Department has been fielding numerous calls from residents concerned over dangerous roadways and asking for roads to be treated.

“We are taking care of those as we can,” Colbaugh said.

Road crews are also battling snow drifts being blown into the roadway by the wind, Colbaugh said. Crews are working to keep the snow cleared from the roadway to keep it from settling and freezing, he said.

“I’ve got two graders out in the mountains, pushing snow back out of the roadway,” Colbaugh said, adding one crew is working on Ripshin Mountain while the other is working in Roan Mountain.

After working for several days to keep roads clear, the county’s supply of road treating materials has taken a small hit.

“We’re running a little low,” Colbaugh said, adding the highway department still has a few hundred tons of road treating materials on hand.

On Wednesday, the county picked up a load of 100 tons of the block dust from the rock quarry in Watauga.

“That’s all we could get because they ran out and it’s too cold to make any more,” Colbaugh said. The quarry uses water to process the stone and turn it into chat, he said, and with temperatures being extremely low, the quarry will not be able to process more until the weather warms up.