An ice layer below a couple inches of snow made driving on area roads treacherous Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
The winter storm forced area schools to close Wednesday and businesses to open late or not at all.
City of Ottawa public works crews began treating the bridges around 6 p.m. Tuesday, city officials said. This is the third snow and ice event in the past week-and-a-half.
Michael Haeffle, public works director, said the crews could not pretreat the streets with salt brine because it would have been all washed off.
“Somewhere around 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. it started freezing enough that the bridges were starting to get slick, so we had a crew come in and start salting the bridges,” Haeffle said. “As the temperatures dropped over night, the streets continued to get worse. We kept crews out salting and treating the streets over night. There was not enough snow to push, so it was boiled down to getting things melted off. The sun coming out [Wednesday] morning really helped quite a bit. The streets for the most part [Wednesday afternoon] are pretty clear considering the temperature drop and the amount of rain and freezing rain we had [Tuesday] night.”
Haeffle said his crews can only salt and sand the streets and hope for warmer temperatures to help clear the streets.
“A lot of what we do — as far as keeping streets clear this time of year — a lot of it is up to the sun,” he said. “We can put all the salt down, but unless the temperatures rise, it is not going to help.”
Haeffle said they try to keep fresh crews by splitting them into 12-hour shifts.
“Midnight and noon are the dividing lines,” he said. “If a storm comes in after work hours, the first crew will come in and work until midnight. The other crew will come in at midnight and work until noon. We have a good balance of seasoned and new employees. The young guys are getting trained by the right people so we can keep the streets safe and clean.”
Haeffle said his crews are tired with the back-to-back-to-back winter storms in the past couple of weeks.
“It is that time of year,” he said. “It has been awhile since we have had a good wet winter. In a way, this is good for agricultural side of things. At the same time, I know my guys are tired. I give a big shout-out to all city workers for the work they do. Their work is greatly appreciated.”
Haeffle said these storms also cause other damage, such as downed tree limbs and potholes.
“Every time we have a storm like this — the snow and ice melting — we find more potholes,” he said. “We try and go out and fix the potholes as we see them. We don’t always find everyone of them. People can call city hall or email public works at ottawaks.gov and report those things, so we can make sure we are getting the attention there.”
Haeffle said working in the inclement conditions can be dangerous. This past weekend a state worker died after an accident in Johnson County.
“The big snow storm a week or two ago, we had a truck that hit a ditch,” Haeffle said. “He was turning around and as slick as it was, once he started sliding off the side of the road, he kept going. The truck laid over on its side. Thank goodness, he was not hurt. They happen, even though workers are going slow. If it can happen to an experienced driver and one that is used to being out in weather like this, imagine what it is like for your average driver. The best advice in a storm like that is to stay home, unless it is absolutely necessary to get out.”