Tata defends DOT's handling of icy NC roads
Posted March 2, 2015
Updated March 3, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Freezing rain and black ice contributed to a 13-car pile-up and many other wrecks around the Triangle Sunday morning, leaving some drivers to complain that the accidents could have been avoided if the North Carolina Department of Transportation was better prepared.
But Transportation Secretary Tony Tata said Monday that his workers were not only prepared, but were proactive by treating known trouble spots before they became icy.
The problem, he said, is that black ice – often the result of melting ice and snow that refreezes – is unpredictable, and when temperatures dip into the low 20s, it is impossible to treat effectively. Salt and sand-salt mixtures do not work.
Appearing wet on roadways, black ice often is not discovered until it is too late.
"That's really the hardest part for us, because you can't scrape it off and you can't chemically decompose it if it's too cold," Tata said. "You need Mother Nature. You need the sun. You need warmer temperatures."
The safest way to avoid black ice is to stay off the roads, he said. Tata noted that he, the governor and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol often warn drivers of the dangers of black ice during severe winter weather.
"We know people are going to be out there, but we want to minimize the traffic and minimize the threat and to allow our teams to do what they need to do," Tata said. "So, there's some element of risk. You cannot remove all the elements of risk of driving on the highways after significant events like we've had."
DOT crews worked quickly last week to clear tons of snow and slush during and after three recent winter storms.
Part of those efforts, Tata said, involved moving 33 crews from areas least affected by the snow to those that saw the greatest impact – including Wake County, which has approximately 5,000 lane miles that the DOT manages.
"That's almost two cross-country trips pushing a plow," he said.
"I want people to understand that no amount of preparation is going to make black ice go away," he added. "But the crews try. The crews are pre-positioned. We know where the hot spots are."
Aviation Parkway and Interstate 540 – the site of Sunday's pile-up – was known to crews as a problem area. They had treated the roadway 15 minutes prior to the wrecks.
The pileup led to numerous tweets, Facebook posts and emails from motorists complaining and questioning the DOT's readiness.
"We welcome all input, all feedback, and our guys are working hard to make sure that the roads are as safe as possible," Tata said. "Whenever we have something that is not right or not just right, we review it, and we assess it."