Commissioner Phil Marshall and others including the Washington County Sheriff Claude Combs, highway foreman, drivers, Sheriff’s deputies, the new highway superintendent and two others commissioners – John Fultz and David Brown, have been talking constantly about the state of roadways in Washington County.
One of the largest counties by miles of roads in the state as well as in land size, Washington County always presents a unique situation to county government – whether it’s trying to do more for less in the summer months with blacktopping and repairing roads or in the winter, when it’s time to put the county’s 26 snow plows and crews to work opening roads for the population to drive upon.
Marshall and the rest of the group decided last night before midnight to issue a state of emergency for driving conditions in the county. Only two other counties in Indiana had been declared an emergency – Marshall and Parke counties.
“Basically, you look at the road situation of the county,” said Marshall. “We determined it was best if only emergency vehicles would be out working on the roads. This helps keep traffic down so our crews can do the best work. It also helps keep our residents safe. We will re-evaluate the situation at 9 a.m. [on Thursday]. It’s a pain in the neck, but we don’t want to get anyone hurt.”
On Thursday morning, the group will reconvene at the Sheriff’s Department to analyze the weather, roads and driving conditions and make a determination on keeping the emergency driving order in place — or decide to lift it.
County government offices were closed today and Marshall said they will remain closed on Thursday.
Marshall said all snowfalls are different and present their own challenges.
“It’s taking longer to shove the snow,” he told WSLM today. “Temperatures are dropping lower….it was 24 and now lower…it will be 7 by early morning Thursday. It’s already starting to re-freeze. It’s easier [for] the county trucks with the blades on to do road clearing and then get [emergency personnel] able to move around the county.”
This year has been especially challenging without salt, which has been extraordinarily hard to find around the area. Many cities and counties have used their supplies and are without.
Marshall said they’ve had to rely on a mixture of sand, cinders and gravel. “The closest supply of salt we could find was in Texas and we can’t afford to go out there and haul it back. I’m sorry it comes to that but It all comes back to a money situation. The cost would be devastating to our county. People don’t like to hear the truth…but overall … 90 percent of the time you’re OK. When you get into these situations, you have trouble. We ask for their patience.”
Marshall said the county’s Calcium Chloride was another option but it can cause damage to vehicles and also causes the oil in paved roads to dry up and the roads to break up as a result. “A blacktopped road now is about $78,000 a mile,” Marshall said. “When you have 760 miles of roads….what you have to realize is there is two sides to a road. Over 1500 miles of roads, which takes us time. We have a limit of 26 trucks.”
The County Highway Department staff has been working all day Wednesday — since about midnight and will continue until late Wednesday night, said Marshall.
“Our trucks have been our since Midnight and will work until midnight again tonight,” he said. “Hopefully all the roads will get plowed at least once. All of our trucks are running. Two trucks have slid off and we had to get them back on the road. County roads are in better shape than the state highway towards Martinsburg. If you don’t have to be out there, don’t get out on the roads.”