Texas Transportation Department Defends Work in Ice Storm

Agency says 1,700 employees are working 12-hour shifts to clear roads

Five days after a major ice storm paralyzed North Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation on Monday defended its work and said its crews are working as fast as possible to clear highways.

"I think we've done a really good job as an agency using our resources wisely and keeping those roadways as passable as possible when you have a major winter event,” said Jodi Hodges, a spokesperson for the agency's Fort Worth office.

Some drivers complained of a slow response.

“I think they should have been more prepared,” said Thomas Davis of Fort Worth. “They knew this was coming.”

"They're really, really slow,” said another woman. “They're not doing it fast enough to me."

Hodges said the storm was worse than predicted and that Sunday’s thaw and re-freeze were a setback.

"Every event we have is unique,” she said. “North Texas generally receives a lot of ice -- not usually this much at one time. But we are prepared as a state to handle major emergencies."

A task force of crews using graders with heavy blades had chipped away 70 percent of the so-called cobblestone ice by Monday evening. Cobblestone ice refers to the large rocks of ice that have accumulated on bridges and overpasses.

As for why the task force didn’t begin work until Sunday, she said many of the crews had come in from other parts of the state but were delayed because the widespread storm also caused problems in their own areas.

The ice was so thick, snow plows won’t break it up, she said.

The agency’s Fort Worth district, which includes most of the western part of North Texas, has 3,600 bridges, she said.

She also faulted the continued arctic weather, which included freezing fog.

"What is really our friend is when those temperatures get above freezing, the sun comes out, we can get a lot more effective and really attack the issue,” she said.

The state transportation department has 1,100 pieces of equipment and 1,700 employees working to clear the highways, Hodges said. They are working 12-hour shifts and some are sleeping on cots.

North Texas has 22,000 miles of highway lanes. By comparison, the distance around the Earth is 24,000 miles.

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