Tata defends DOT's handling of icy NC roads

Posted March 2, 2015
Updated March 3, 2015

— 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."


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  • Christopher Byrne Mar 3, 2015
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    Nutshell- Excellent job DOT. Bridge + Moisture + Freezing temperatures = Black ice. Personal accountability, people. It's always someone else's fault. That woman that exclaims "I coulda died!" Willam Barber minion.

  • Lauren Little Mar 3, 2015
    user avatar

    At some point people need to take responsibility for their own actions and not look constantly for someone to blame for bad things that happen. If you know we have had extremely cold weather, and see that it's raining out and see ice on your car, would it not stand to reason that you should drive accordingly? The state can only do so much to the roads; ultimately nature is going to have its way.

  • Victor Cruz-Saez Mar 3, 2015
    user avatar

    I had to work the night shift on that weekend. When I got off work at 5:30 a.m., I noticed this thing covering my car called ice. I guess that those chuckle heads did not figure it out when they had to scrape the ice off their windshields? Or how about the fact that as they were scraping their windows, that frozen rain was falling?

    Oh well, those folks will keep me gainfully employed.

  • Teresa Engel Mar 3, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Blame the meteorologists for what? They cannot control the type of weather we get. And predicting weather is far from an exact science. It never will be an exact science. This mess is NOBODY'S FAULT, except those that chose to drive in it! Period! It's not the DOT's fault, it's not the meteorologists fault, it's the fault of the fools that think they can navigate ice.

  • Sammy Macloud Mar 3, 2015
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    Plenty of warning folks......the roads just MIGHT be icy on Friday morning.....take heed so you don't blame the DOT or anyone else but yourself if you have issues

  • Hoyt Armstrong Mar 3, 2015
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    I did not have a problem...I KEPT MY RUMP OFF THE ROADS..Blame the meterologists

  • Marc Nichols Mar 3, 2015
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    Even though TaTa was off pushing his book on a right wing pseudo-news show, the DOT did a fair job. they were hamstrung partly by the widely variably precipitation and by the fact that the meteorologists were flat out awful in their predictions of what would fall and when. they were so purposely vague and broad that whatever they said they would end up saying "we told you so" How many times did they tell us after Tuesday's snow that at least that was it - and there have been two frozen precipitation events within the next week. duh.

  • Howard Sr. Mar 3, 2015
    user avatar

    Some people will complain even if you hung them with a new rope...

  • Sammy Macloud Mar 3, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    WHAT has this got to do w/ icy roads and the DOT? You're venting on the wrong story I would say, but .....

  • Monika Shakinovsky Mar 3, 2015
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    I think they have a tough call to make and take criticism either way. I think canceling was the right thing to do. However, what I have issues with is that my kids are on Track 2 and were not affected at all by the days off, yet they took away an Early release day to make up for one of the days. Now my kids have to go to school extra. Also, this is only an extra 2 hours by making this a Full Day instead of early release. How is this a decent make up day? They have said in the past they need at least 4 hours of instruction and all the other make up days have been 'half days' like the Early release days. I certainly hope with the 3 new days they need to make up for they don't make Track 2 have to deal with that. They did not make a good call with figuring that out and they should have considered Track 2. Last year they made up days on Saturday, and could have done at least one Saturday instead of taking away an Early release day to those not even affected. Bad Call!!