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DailyTidings.com
  • WINTER STORM AFTERMATH

    Still icy — what's the deal?

    A confluence of issues made it hard for the city to clear the streets after Friday's storm
  • After four days of slipping, sliding and bending fenders, Ashlanders still could get no solid traction Monday, but they had plenty of grousing to do about a city street department that couldn't make it all go away. Now.
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  • After four days of slipping, sliding and bending fenders, Ashlanders still could get no solid traction Monday, but they had plenty of grousing to do about a city street department that couldn't make it all go away. Now.
    "I was scratching my head, 'Where is the city street help?'" said resident Felice Denise Laurel. "Back on the East Coast, this stuff is usually cleared up by now or at the least is certainly better than this."
    "It's ridiculous they can't figure out how to plow the streets and sidewalks better," said resident Shelley Lotz. "If people in Alaska can deal with it, why can't we? You can get plows and machines out. Yes, it's a record cold, but can we please have a plan to deal with this next time?"
    The Ashland Street Department got its plows and sanding trucks out pronto after the storm hit Friday afternoon, but the pumice cinder rock it uses froze in the truck beds and wouldn't dump out onto the streets, said Manager John Peterson.
    It was "the perfect storm for ice," he said — lots of rapidly falling snow, then zero-degree freezing air.
    It was so cold that the rock matted and rolled off the ice instead of penetrating as it was designed to do, he said. The Ashland temperature didn't go above 21 degrees from midday Friday to midday Sunday, according to Southern Oregon University's Ashland Weather Station. The National Weather Service's official gauge at the wastewater treatment plant recorded minus 3 degrees overnight Sunday and Monday, the second coldest temperature on record.
    Greatly compounding the problem, Peterson said, was that lots of vehicles got stuck Friday and were abandoned by their drivers — some in the middle of the street — making it difficult for plows to create even one lane for driving.
    Meanwhile, three Rogue Valley Transportation District buses "spun out of control," Peterson said, two of them at the steep climb into Ashland on North Main Street by the railroad trestle and another at the pitch up on East Main by Wells Fargo Bank.
    Groups of pedestrians helped push cars up the East Main hump to Pioneer Street, said Melissa Mitchell-Hooge, who had to abandon her car there on Friday evening.
    "So many people needed help," she said. "It was a real spontaneous community action of kind people. It would have been really bad if no one had helped."
    Despite the days without visible bare pavement, Peterson said the city was well prepared for storms and had enough people, plows and rock.
    "But this came very fast," he said. "People were at a standstill and abandoned a lot of vehicles. If RVTD would have chained up, it would have helped a lot."
    Some Ashland drivers complained on Facebook that the city should have put salt on the roads, a common practice back East. But Peterson said salting roads is banned in Oregon, except on the Siskiyou Pass, because it's harmful to vegetation and corrodes rebar in concrete and the steel in vehicles.
    Julie Brown, general manager of RVTD, said she believes buses were chained up when the storm hit Friday. Buses can't climb hills when it's snowing and freezing, especially if roads have been "crowned" — paved over and over, creating a high spot in the middle and forcing vehicles to slide to the right and get stuck, she said.
    "That was one of a multitude of things happening," said Brown. "People don't realize the weight of those buses. They don't have four-wheel drive. ... It was terrible for passengers. It took an hour to get home, just inside Medford."
    At the height of the storm, from 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, Ashland police received 17 reports of crashes, but there were at least three times that many fender-benders, said police Chief Terry Holderness. No one was reported injured or taken to the hospital, he said.
    "We weren't taking reports on minor crashes," Holderness said. "We just told them to trade information and try to get their cars out of the road."
    Drivers compacted the snow, and overnight freezing turned it into ice that can only be removed when temperatures get above freezing, said Peterson. That's predicted for today.
    "People are still slipping and sliding," Holderness said on Monday. At least one dinged-up and abandoned car was crashed into a second time, he said.
    "Everyone here (in the police department) said it's the worst storm and traffic situation they can ever remember," Holderness said. "Most people who don't have to be out there (on roads) are not out there."
    "Unless you're running chains," said Peterson, "you're taking a risk."
    The city of Ashland plows and sands the arterial streets of Main, Siskiyou and Lithia Way first, then moves onto feeder streets such as Oak, Mountain, Walker and Tolman Creek. After that come residential streets, which were getting rock on Monday, the city reported.
    The City has four snow plows and city crews began plowing on Friday.
    Once the snow turned to ice, the snow plows became virtually ineffective. Crews have tried using a street grader to break the ice but have not been successful. Once the temperatures are above freezing and the ice starts to melt, the plows will be used to clear the streets. However, even a plowed and sanded street does not guarantee the street is free from ice.
    It's not just the streets that are bothersome, said resident Mara Owen. "I'm more unhappy with the homeowners and merchants who haven't bothered to shovel the sidewalks adjacent their properties, in keeping with safety, common sense, and city ordinance. Even this old lady immediately cleared her walks and those of a couple elderly neighbors, just as I was taught to do as a kid."
    With so much snow and ice still on the road, Herb Long, an 85-year-old Ashland resident, said he's content to just walk his dog, Sadie, rather than try to drive.
    Long said it took two days for a tow truck to pull a neighbor's car out after it had slipped off the driveway along Iowa Street.
    He said other cars have been sliding over the streets because it seemed to take a long time to rock the roads.
    Other than the problems, Long said he welcomes the snow and frosty weather.
    "It's a very magical time," he said.
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org. Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann contributed to this report.
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