East Tennessee road crews prepare for winter weather


KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Road crews have been out since 9 a.m. putting brine on the roads. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has been busy treating interstates while the city has been focusing on busy roads like Kingston Pike.

For the first time this winter season the salt and brine trucks are out of the garage and being put to use.

“We have our crews pre-treating East Tennessee roadways in our 24 county region which stretches from Roane, Scott, Morgan counties all the way up to Upper East Tennessee,” said TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi.Related story: 10 things to remember when driving in winter weather

TDOT currently has more than 250,000 tons of salt and nearly two million gallons of salt brine ready for use.

“We have 220 salt trucks and plows at our disposal and depending on how significant the winter weather is, we could have all of them working in a 24 or 48 hour period,” said Nagi.

Brine is also being used on roads across Knoxville.

“We have six brine trucks out right now dropping about 40 tons of salt and we cover about 400 lane miles,” said Chad Weth, Knoxville public service driector.

He explained why its best to pre-treat the roads with brine.

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“Right now putting down salt brine helps form a layer to make sure that the ice ain’t able to bond onto the pavement,” said Weth.

Brining continued into the evening with roads around hospitals being treated first. Neighborhoods are the last places the trucks will go.

Sevier County and the Smokies

Road crews in the higher elevations near the Smokies have their work cut out for them. Sevier County Highway Department trucks were first prepared in November but have been sitting dormant waiting for winter weather to make an appearance. They will likely begetting their chance to be put to work this week.

The salt supply also doing well right now because of the mild winter so far.

“We try to have about 2,500 tons of stone and salt mixture, and then we have about 1,000 tons of salt on hand right now,” said Sevier County Road Superintendent Jonas Smelcer.

The Sevier County Highway Department says this winter has been a breeze so far because it’s been so warm until recently, but last year they had to use about $150,000 worth of salt and started using it in mid-October.

“This afternoon we’re going to go out and start pre-salting some of the steep terrain where we have problems with some of those roads,” said Smelcer.

Crews say some of the big trouble spots they will watch are around English Mountain and the back roads in Gatlinburg.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, warning signs are lit and snow plows are getting into place.

“At our higher elevations Newfound Gap Road is very difficult to keep open, but we do have our sand trucks and gravel trucks on a rotation where they can work seven days a week,” said park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.

National Park Service road crews have been ready for the wintry weather for several months, but mild temperatures across the mountains have kept most of the roads dry and open.

“We had one of the warmest Decembers on record, so this is first little snapshot of winter weather that we’re seeing,” said Soehn.

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It’s not just the roads the National Park Service has to think about this week, but the trails as well. It’s already cold enough to form ice along the waterways in the lower elevations, and backcountry specialists say some of those popular hiking spots are covered with sheets of ice too, so they say if you’re planning to experience winter in the Smokies you need to contact them to find out how to do it safely.

“When you get up to our higher elevations with the wind blowing on the ridge line it’s going to feel very different and you’re going to need gear that’s different,” said Christine Hoyer, backcountry management specialist.

While it’s sunny below, that might not be the case in a few thousand feet. Their best advice is to check with them before you venture out by car or by foot.

“Winter can be a beautiful time to explore the Smokies, but you need to be prepared.”

Cumberland County

Road crews and families in Cumberland County are looking at Wednesday’s forecast with a different perspective. Last winter, the area experienced a brutal ice storm that left thousands without power and a trail of debris, costing millions to clean up.

June Allen and her five-year-old daughter were without power for about four days last year. All of their groceries went back. This year they’ve prepared meals and left some of their faucets dripping so their pipes don’t freeze.

“Fortunate enough that we know enough from last year to prepare for that,” said Allen.

Road superintendent Scott Blaylock says all six trucks in his fleet are gassed up and ready to take on what’s ahead of them. He met with his staff Tuesday afternoon to talk about their plan to clear the roads and treat them with a mixture of salt, sand and gravel.

“Well we’re as prepared as we can be and we hope that nothing like that ever happens again, but if it does, we’re more educated due to that,” said Blaylock.

Everyone on Blaylock’s staff is on call so when the snow hits, they’ll be ready to go at a moment’s notice. They’ll start with the dangerous curves, hills and intersections first. They want people to be aware that roads could be very slick tomorrow and if they don’t have to go anywhere, stay home.

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