Eastern Wake News

Icy roads in eastern Wake creates problems on 64 bypass

Scenes like this were relatively common along Poole and Smithfield roads on the outskirts of Knightdale as the morning traffic faced icy conditions on Tuesday.
Scenes like this were relatively common along Poole and Smithfield roads on the outskirts of Knightdale as the morning traffic faced icy conditions on Tuesday. amoody@newsobserver.com

A winter storm that moved through the state last week left more ice than snow, causing some major traffic problems for residents in the eastern part of the county.

The National Weather Service’s Raleigh Forecast Office said Wake County averaged anywhere from a quarter-inch to a half-inch of slippery precipitation.

“It was a thin coating of snow and sleet, with some freezing rain mixed in there too, so it was truly a mess,” said meteorologist Jonathan Blaes.

Road conditions were much improved by noon, when temperatures reached 30 degrees and the sun began to work its magic. Blaes said temperatures got above freezing about 1 p.m. and stayed above that mark until sundown.

In addition to smaller accidents and closures throughout Tuesday morning, there was a major accident on US 64 near the Wendell Falls exit around 6 a.m.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation responded by adding more salt and sand to the area.

On its official Twitter, NCDOT said 450 tons of salt were used in Wake County in addition to 650 tons of a salt/sand mixture.

According to DOT spokesman Steve Abbott salt helps ice melt but can’t be put down until the ice is already there, which is why the roads were difficult to navigate earlier in the morning.

The salt/sand mixture both breaks down the ice and helps it melt faster, he said.

“Most of (the issues on 64) were on the bridges, which we told people we were going to be lots of trouble,” Abbott said. “When you have a lot of precipitation on the road and it freezes enough ... salt doesn’t have any really power to melt things.”

According to the state Highway Patrol, there were 30 accidents on US 64 from midnight on Monday to about 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Only two of those resulted in injury.

Local roads pose problems

Wendell police Chief Bill Carter said there were two reported accidents in his town during the icy event, but there were numerous other vehicles stuck on slick spots.

“There were areas into mid-morning (Tuesday) that were just pure glazed-over roads,” Carter said.

Wendell officers responded to one accident that resulted only in vehicle damage at Hanor Lane and Marshburn Road. State troopers took another call in the vicinity of Wendell Boulevard and N.C. 97, where a vehicle wound up in a ditch.

Carter said a big trouble spot for traffic was on Selma Road, from Lawson Drive south to the town limits.

“That was combination of significant traffic flow to and from Wendell from the Johnston County side – add the glaze of ice and the tree lines keeping it from melting,” Carter said. “We didn’t have any reported damage to anyone out there, but you get a stacking effect where vehicles can’t go further.”

The east end of Wendell Falls Parkway also posed a challenge for commuters, Carter said.

In Zebulon, police Chief Tim Hayworth said there several incidents in town where commuters slid off the roadway. He said the majority of those occurred on U.S. 64/264, N.C. 97 near Walmart, and on Green Pace Road where he said conditions were “real bad.”

But the worst of Zebulon’s incidents took place on westbound U.S. 264 just past N.C. 97, according to the chief.

“We had a pretty big crash out there,” he said. “There was nobody really hurt but there were several vehicles involved that ran off the road there, where there was some ice and a little grade.”

Hayworth said Zebulon’s roadways were mostly clear of ice by 10 a.m.

“Our public works (department) has done such a great job in the various winter events this year that we’ve really reduced the amount of accidents that we’ve had,” Hayworth said. “It’s mostly people just sliding off the road into a ditch, sliding into a curb or a guard rail.”

No road pre-treatment

Zebulon Public Works Director Chris Ray said this time around was different than other recent wintry weather events.

“We basically could not do anything in advance of the storm because of the rain, so we didn’t want to waste our time or resources,” Ray said. “This time, it was reactive.”

Zebulon applied 2.2 tons of a salt/sand mixture to bridges and main intersections in town as the icy mix began to stick to road surfaces late Monday afternoon. Crews returned at 5 a.m. Tuesday and put down an additional 44 tons of the salt/sand mixture along the town’s main thoroughfares.

Police kept work crews alerted to trouble spots that remained as of about 9 a.m. Tuesday. Ray’s team went back for a second application of the mixture on Mack-Todd Road, Pony Road and North Street.

“I would probably say they were the most troublesome,” Ray said.

In Knightdale, police Chief Jason Godwin said there were no accidents that caused injury within the town’s limits but there were several accidents with property damage, mostly from cars sliding into each other.

The town used brine to treat trouble spots in the town before the winter weather moved in and in the morning, treated roads with sand.

Crews worked from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. with police to identify those spots in the town.