East TN road crews prepare for first winter weather event of the season

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SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Road crews were prepping their trucks as early as 8 a.m. Monday for the winter weather event coming through East Tennessee later that night.

Mark Nagi, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation, said crews loaded their trucks and headed out to their routes to monitor road conditions before the rain turned to snow on Monday.

Once the rain turned into snow, TDOT would start treating it.

“The fear is always that there’s going to be ice on the roadways. So our crews will salt the roadways, paying extra attention to those bridges, those overpasses, the places that can get really slick,” Nagi said.

TDOT crews, along with other road crews covering county roads, such as Sevier and Blount counties, couldn’t pre-treat the roads while the rain continued.

“When you start warmer as a rain event, you’re basically just using the taxpayers’ dollars of liquid and literally washing it down the drain,” Jeff Headrick, Blount County Highway Superintendent, said.

Headrick said the rain would wash away the salt they put down.

So, while it was still raining, Blount County road crews and Sevier County road crews were filling up their trucks with salt and making sure the plows worked properly.

Donnie Adams, Operations Manager for the Sevier County Highway Department, said they use just salt to treat the roads.

“Your average dump truck will hold 9 to 10 tons of it. Our pickups just haul about a ton to a ton-and-a-half, so we can go for a long time,” Adams said.

If the road temperature reached below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, Adams said salt alone doesn’t work, so they switch to a salt/sand mix.

TDOT, Blount County and Sevier County crews said they all had plenty of salt to treat the roads.

To prepare for winter weather, the crews also went over their routes.

In the mountains, certain routes can be very tricky and dangerous.

They have to worry about steep and more narrow roads, along with driving on roads that already dropped to a colder temperature.

“I call them trained professionals. They’re good at what they do. Some of the guys that’s got some of their zones, Happy Valley and places, they’ve had that zone for 20-plus years. Still, in the event, it’s always dangerous,” Headrick said.

Crews have their plans to treat priority routes first, which are usually heavily driven roads, and then move to secondary routes.

Adams said people should be patient if they notice their road hasn’t been treated yet. It simply means crews are still working on other roads that take priority, but they will get to the other routes.

Adams said another tricky aspect of their job is having to work around traffic.

He said they can’t properly treat roads if there are too many cars on the road, especially if they are driving too close.

“(The truck) slings the salt out of the back. I mean, we try to cover the whole road in one pass so we don’t have to make two swipes on it. A lot of times, if there’s no oncoming traffic that we can see, we’ll stay to the middle of the road so we can cover the whole road,” Adams said.

All road crews ask drivers stay off the roads during winter weather if possible so they can treat the routes safely.

Crews will be working throughout the night, as long as there is winter weather and roads need to be treated.

“Stay home, watch TV, enjoy your family, then look at (the snow) the next morning,” Headrick said.

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