Garrett’s Blog: Why is Arkansas So Poor at Snow Removal?

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The latest West Memphis I-40 and I-55 snow traffic debacle has me asking the same question raised months ago after Northwest Arkansas was shut down for a week after the snow moved out.

Why can’t we clear the roads like Tennessee, Oklahoma, or Missouri?

Our newsroom talked to a viewer today from St. Paul; their child has missed 21 days of school this year due to bad roads. The economic loss alone from these excessive snow days has got to be in the millions for our state.

So what’s the problem? Why can’t we clear roads like other states?

Before I go any further, understand that I don’t think AHTD is lazy or not doing their job. There are countless fathers and mothers who have been working the graveyard shift or repairing sand trucks on the side of the road at 2am in 15º weather. They work hard. Often terrible hours, many of them on Christmas Day or weekends away from their family.

I’m just wondering if the methods and techniques are outdated? Or is it just underfunded? Maybe both?

This week, I learned it’s not just Northwest Arkansas where the “Welcome To Arkansas” sign separates snow roads from clear roads.

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This was Bella Vista on the Arkansas/Missouri state line back in December

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This is Evansville on the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line this week.

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This is the traffic jam on I40 from the iDrive Arkansas website, Tennessee Roads clear. Arkansas roads… not so much.

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An then there’s picture from northeast Arkansas from a KAIT viewer: Lori Moser .

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Earlier today, the State of Georgia released an internal review of their trafficpocolypse from last month. The report can be found here. I’m wondering if anyone in our State government has even read this yet? Some of the recommendations include:

  • Installing 15ft removable sections along the interstate to eliminate jams
  • Contacting Nashville, Birmingham, & DFW to learn from their experiences
  • Installing ground monitors to watch asphalt surface & air temperatures
  • Establishing “strike teams” to assist stranded motorists

Is Arkansas doing any of this? We should be learning from the surrounding states to maximize the snow removal process to prevent economic hardship, lost educational instruction days, & fewer deadly crashes on roads.

Why are county policies different from city policies different from state policy? Whenever our reporters talk to the state we’re told “it’s a county issue”. When we talk to cities, we’re told “it’s a state issue”. No, it’s ALL of our issue. Why the run around? I would almost be more satisfied if someone just said: “We’re broke, we’re just going to wait for the sun to do what we can’t”.

Is there not a way to collaborate for a list of best practices and standard operating procedures?

I realize this winter is exceptionally rare. In Northwest Arkansas alone, we’ve had around 17 winter weather events. Not all years will be this bad, but when the truly bad winters hit, we can’t be caught without our plows down.

-Garrett

25 comments

  • Crowhunter

    Great article Garrett,glad to someone bring this out to the public.Arkansas Highway commission has no one to report to. They are their own boss.same as AGFC.

  • CQ

    Excellent blog post.

    AHTD is a very poorly run department. And they are excessively cheap, doing the bare minimum when it comes to everything like construction of roads, safety enhancements, and maintenance. AHTD is a few decades behind the current times.

    Funding is an issue as always, but there’s also no standards, no coordination with local officials, and its policies are outdated. I’ve contacted AHTD in Little Rock on a number of safety issues (including roadway lighting on Interstate highways in urban areas of NWA), and they’ve told me it’s a local/city/county issue when it simply isn’t (or at least it shouldn’t be). It’s just absurd.

    Until significant changes are made and the various departments (city, county, state) stop being so cheap, these issues will continue and safety of the citizens are being put at risk.

  • Sherry Marshall

    Arkansas winters are the same as the other states you mentioned with the clear roads. Snow and sleet don’t just stop at the state line!!! Why can’t we have like maintenance?

  • David

    It’s not just snow/ice removal. Look at all roads at any state line. I 40 from Oklahoma to arkansas…OK road is smooth and nice. Hit the state line, rough and full of potholes. Tennessee and Mississippi is the same story. Nice until you get to arkansas. By the way, my dad works for Springdale city works and is out all hours of the night driving a plow and sanding the roads of Springdale. He’ll drive hours in the middle of the night to work in the cold in order to get roads open and safe. The problem isn’t with the workers, it’s with the bureaucrats that handle the funding (as evident in our road construction vs neighboring states).

    • CQ

      Your dad is awesome! I know how hard it is for those to go out and just do their job.

      It is a higher up issue… But I think Springdale is definitely many steps ahead when compared to Rogers, Bentonville, Fayetteville, and the counties. i love the new technology that Springdale has implemented for snow/ice removal.

  • lee

    I don’t understand why trash pickup is one o first services to go down. These are big heavy trucks, perciesly the same equipment used to plow in milwaukee. Why can’t they outfit them with plows this would add to the number of trucks out clearing streets and yeas picking up trash. Paper people get through, UPS gets packages to us yet these giant trucks can’t.

  • Auxarc

    MoDOT uses beet juice to help get rid of the ice. Arkansas does not.

    But Missouri as a lower gas tax and more roads to maintain than Arkansas. But it’s the typical South: corruption everywhere and pass the blame.

  • Poly Ester

    Thanks Garrett for the post. This has been a pet peeve of mine for years.

    My family moved here from Tennessee in 1984. I couldn’t believe the lack of ice and snow removal that took place in Arkansas. When I asked why salt wasn’t used to clear the roads, I was told it was because it damaged the roads. I found this to be an hysterical answer since ARKANSAS ALREADY HAS SOME OF THE WORST ROADS IN THE NATION. That was in 1984 and nothing has changed.

    We have an election coming up in November. This should be an issue in the governors race. It is time to clean house at AHTD. And, they should hire someone from one of the above mentioned states (TN, OK, MO) to come in and totally revamp the department. Someone with no political connection to any elected official.

    Once again the powers-that-be have made Arkansas joke worthy.

    • M86

      AHTD has a stigma of being, just bad. I hate to bash them, but the current director, Scott Bennett really wants to turn things around, from what I’ve heard.

      I’ve read things online about AHTD, including things like “God/the warmer temps will clear the roads”, and roadway lighting makes visibility worse (I wish I could find those quotes, but it was along those lines).

      Cleaning house should start with the Highway Commission… It’s a bunch of old geezers (Sorry, needed to be said)… and who knows what their credentials/backgrounds are.

      But lucky for us, their terms are 10 years! *sarcasm*

  • M Evans

    Could you please explain “Installing 15ft removable sections along the interstate to eliminate jams”? Sections of what?

    • M86

      I’m curious on that too, but Garrett the Weather Man can’t answer that. :) He’s just a weather guy.

      I know up north, they will actually close Interstate highways when it gets really bad, and they have signs/flashing lights/barricades when it happens.

  • B. Fleming

    If they would just use salt and inform people to wash their vehicles the roads would have been cleaned a lot sooner if safety was the priority. Money would be saved. Schools would be back in session sooner. Sand doesn’t work very well.

  • Ron Mitchell

    Thanks for the insight Rob. This is exactly what I suspected was happening. Unfortunately, until the citizens of Arkansas demand that changes be made, nothing will be done. It seems to me that it is time that a complete change of the upper level management of AHTD needs to be made.

  • Sarah 1

    Thank you Rob the Highwayman. I hope someone mails this to the Governors office. What you say comes thru as real and truthful. As with most agencies at state level the money stays with the people who distribute it rather than the much needed services, Kudos for your revelation.
    Beware folks, the state will raise taxes rather than fix the budget at the AHTD. That is how most governmental agencies repair problems as you know.

  • M86

    I don’t think there is much that the governor can do about it. Arkansas’s Governor has little power. It’s a messed up system, and one that I will never understand.

  • highwaymanalso

    Rob the highwaymans post seems to be missing could you send a link where I might find it.

  • Rob the Highwayman

    Well Highwaymanalso, it seems that my “comment is awaiting moderation” at this time, and I was no longer able to locate the link to this blog that M86 had posted on aaroads.com. Perhaps someone has disputed the validity of my comments which is bound to happen until other like voices are heard. I do have a copy saved of my comment. As I have been informed that I am not free to voice my opinions on what have been my experiences at work, and I am currently waiting to find out “what will be done with” me, it would not be advisable for me to repost my comment without first allowing KFSM and Garrett Lewis the opportunity to reinstate my comment that has been called into question. Perhaps while the “comment is awaiting moderation”, there will be other highwaymen who are willing to risk sharing their own observations and helping to answer the question Garrett is asking. “Why is Arkansas so poor at snow removal?”
    I would like to take just a moment to clarify something. I am proud of my job and I am proud of how my coworkers have done their job with what was made available to them. The purpose of my original comment was not to simply complain or make the Department look bad. It was and is my hope that the media will ask some hard questions of not only the upper management of AHTD but also of those men and women that have their boots on the ground fighting Mother Nature for dominion over the highways of our state. Only by interviewing both the policy makers and the employees in the field will truth prevail and solutions be enacted for be betterment of the Department and our state as a whole.

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