Delta Digital News Service

By Claire Fisher | Contributor

Feb. 3, 2023

WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. – As winter weather pushes through Arkansas, city and state road crews are taking all precautions as they treat primary roads to keep transportation from freezing up.

            Arkansas sees its fair share of winter weather. The winter system that made its way into eastern Arkansas is no exception. The first round of sleet and snow began falling Monday night and continued with a second and third round Tuesday. When roads are in prime condition to freeze over, preparation by road crews keeps them from being unusable.

            Lawrence County has many highly trafficked highways leading to bigger cities. During inclement weather, the Arkansas Department of Transportation sends out crews in District 10 to treat these roads. Brad Smithee, District 10 engineer for ARDOT, said crews try to treat roads 24 hours in advance to get the best results.

            “We look at a lot of forecasting in order to keep up with the weather. We have close connections with National Weather Service, and we send out crews as soon as we get word of bad weather,” Smithee said. Treating roads when the weather has begun is not ideal, but weather is unpredictable, and crews will do whatever it takes to keep transportation running.

            According to Smithee, the roads are pretreated with a brine. “The brine is a saltwater solution that forms a barrier between the pavement and the snow, making it easier to plow.” When the brine is put onto a road it forms a crust, and the crust forms best when the solution is dispersed when it is raining “low and slow.” ARDOT crews also use rock salt to treat roads, but it is not the best treatment when there are a lot of roads to cover.

            While ARDOT focuses on main highways, city road departments take care of almost everything else. Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp said the city owns two salt trucks that are sent to treat roads when bad weather is coming. However, salt trucks release another useful ingredient when running their routes.

            “We use beet juice as a pretreatment for our roads,” Snapp said. “Beet juice is a gooey substance and it sticks to the roads better. If it is windy, the wind will just blow the salt away.” Beet juice comes in handy when treating roads because it can be cheaper than salt at some times. Walnut Ridge received three shipments of salt in December, and they only have about one-fourth left to last the rest of winter.

            According to Snapp, treating roads with beet juice first, then rock salt is proving to be the best way to clear the primary roads of the city. Road crews first clear roads leading to the hospital, then primary roads leading to Williams Baptist University, then the courthouse and lastly the sheriff’s office. Snapp said he plans to keep using this treatment as it works best for Walnut Ridge.

            Once the road crews have treated the roads, they do routine maintenance to keep them clear. But even these treatments will not be completely effective. Drivers still need to be cautious while driving in winter weather. The smallest ice patches can cause an accident. Reece Archer, a dispatcher for the Walnut Ridge Police, said accident reports rise at least 30% during winter weather. Drivers need to know which roads are unsafe for travel during ice or snow. Checking IDrive Arkansas before traveling is a good way to see if there are any road closings or roads to avoid.