DOT preps roads despite budget, staff cuts

The state government of North Carolina said they are ready to battle the winter storm on the state's roads, despite earlier budget and staffing cuts to the Department of Transportation.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The state government of North Carolina said they are ready to battle the winter storm on the state's roads, despite earlier budget and staffing cuts to the Department of Transportation.

At Gov. Bev Perdue's request, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton signed an executive order suspending some motor-carrier regulations to ensure the delivery of fuel and gas. The suspended regulations set the maximum number of hours a trucker can drive, as well as weight and size restrictions.

In the past few days, DOT have been working hard to prep roads for the storm. Crews laid down 100,000 gallons of salt brine on roads on major roads in Wake County, though smaller roads are still vulnerable. The salt-brine mix is effective for up to three days if it doesn't rain or get below 20 degrees.

DOT crews in the Triangle have 2,000 tons of salt on hand to make more of the anti-icing mixture, and crews will be working 12-hour shifts from Friday night.

In Cary, crews were out targeting the main roads, bridges, hills and historically icy spots with sand and salt Friday night.

Despite those efforts, though, some DOT equipment in parts of the state will likely be idle this weekend.

Amid a slowing economy and state budget cuts, DOT has laid off nearly 1,000 part-time employees in the past 1½ years. Many of those workers were involved in snow removal.

"The temporaries that we let go do, in fact, do a lot of our traditional stuff, snow and ice being one of those," DOT Chief Engineer Jon Nance said.

DOT has filled some of the holes by cross-training employees and relying on contractors. In the past two months, they  have also brought back 150 of the temporary workers.

"We put some of those back on from a critical standpoint for the winter, again, looking at risk," Nance said. He said that road crews around the Triangle are up to strength and he didn't anticipate any problems in the area.

“There is a very good chance, depending on how much of this precipitation comes down, that we won’t be able to get everything clear within a day," DOT engineer Steve Halsey said. "If you talk about temperatures getting down into the teens Saturday night, it is going to be very difficult for us to make roads safe and passable."

Nance said his major concern is a prolonged weather event in which crews work "shift after shift" in "really cold temperatures."

"We're going to do what it takes," he said. "The employees we have are very dedicated, and they're going to continue to be that way."

Some motorists were were planning to avoid the roads as much as possible.

"I am probably not going to get back on the roads," driver Ben Williams said Friday evening. "Just because of the weather and people driving crazy and stuff like that."

Daryle Willis walks everywhere. He said walking to work in this type of weather could be like "playing Russian roulette."

"I am used to doing it everyday, but you have to be very cautious," Willis said.

National Guard, utilities also prepare

Also on the state level, 30 members of the North Carolina National Guard were called to active duty Thursday. They reported to armories in Kinston, Greensboro in the Triad and Clyde in the western part of the state.

The National Guard also has generators on standby just in case of a major power outage. The soldiers, who will be traveling in Humvees, will assist state troopers in transporting patients or getting essential employees, such as doctors, to work.

Urgent preparations are being made by utility company crews in order to respond to any power outages.

Fayetteville's Public Works Commission was preparing to be hit with a half-inch to three-quarters an inch of ice capable of causing widespread power outages. The local utility has mutual aid agreements with 70 other municipal utility companies which could help with any power outages, a spokeswoman said.

Dunn-based South River Electric Co-op also participates in mutual-aid agreements with other co-op utilities.

Duke Energy said it is monitoring the storm and reading crews, while Progress Energy said it is assembling 1,500 personnel, including workers from Florida, Georgia and Maryland. A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation said that its 26 members have local crews on hand.

Raleigh-Durham International Airport has already canceled most of its early morning flights for Saturday. Get update flight information.
Cumberland County schools sent students two hours early Friday, and many school systems have canceled after-school activities and weekend athletic events. Counties and municipalities have canceled recreational activities, including Cary's Winter Wonderland. (See all closings and delays.)

Cancellations and delays haven't spared local government meetings, either – including weekend planning retreats for Chapel Hill town council and Wake County commissioners and Saturday and Monday meetings by the Durham and Chatham county commissioners and Fayetteville City Council.