Winter weather this week that began with rain ended in snow and ice, and plenty of unwary drivers found themselves in trouble as a result. State Transportation Department Winter Operations Administrator Dennis Burkheimer says roads that might be safe in some seasons can pose hidden dangers during a change in the weather. In fall, for example, he says the ground holds warmth that helps keep the roadway surface a little warmer than the falling air temps.
So any time there’s snow or ice, it’ll melt when it touches the roadway — but he adds the bridges, overpasses and ramps don’t have ground underneath them and will get colder, so the precipitation will freeze on their surfaces.
It’s that situation where traveler going 65 to 70 miles an hour might encounter, when they hit a bridge and discover it has slippery spots. So as chief of winter road maintenance, what does Burkheimer carry in his own car?
He says he “definitely” has a scraper in the trunk, and this time of year starts assembling a survival kit that includes a shovel and a piece of carpet in case the car gets stuck. He also has a blanket and a few other survival items, so in case he’s ever stuck out on the highway there’ll be something to use for bundling up while waiting 8, ten hours or more for rescue.
The number of crashes slowly continues to fall despite lots of highway miles driven, and Burkheimer says you can thank a continuos process of re-designing roads to be safer all the time. He says a lot of design changes have eliminated many dangers on the road. But he says there are still areas where, for example, work crews put up snow fences in winter to reduce blowing and drifting on the road, but in many areas they’ve been redesigned to reduce a lot of those problems drivers faced years ago.