by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune
---- — Snow was just one of the obstacles the Cass County Highway Department had to overcome when clearing roads during last weekend’s blizzard.
There were the stranded drivers they assisted. Abandoned vehicles often blocked the path of plows, forcing them to stop until a tow truck could make it out. Making the situation even more difficult were the mechanical problems brought on by subzero temperatures.
Several who set out to travel county roads through the conditions slid off the road or got stuck in the middle of the road as snow continued to drift. Highway workers would then plow out to them to retrieve stranded travelers.
“If somebody did get stuck in a vehicle, it became a life-threatening situation,” said Cass County Highway Superintendent Jeff Smith. “That diverted our crews responding to those emergencies instead of trying to make progress on the roads.”
Further delays were created when vehicles stuck in the middle of roads prevented plows from getting through, Smith added.
Not long after more than 9 inches of snow fell on the area, temperatures plummeted to the negative teens with windchill readings in the negative 40s.
“Equipment just did not want to work in that extreme cold,” Smith said.
Smith went on to say that at one point, two-thirds of the department’s 21-truck fleet was incapacitated because of the cold, whether it was fuel gelling, lines on air brake systems freezing or air filters packed with ice. When this would happen, trucks would have to return to the highway department on Ind. 17 to warm up and receive repairs.
“Our mechanics worked feverishly to get trucks back online,” Smith said, adding that mechanics would often finish with a truck right as another pulled into the shop.
Fire departments in the area offered their bays for highway department trucks to pull into for a thaw or a quick repair as well, Smith said.
Logansport Superintendent of Public Works Dan Williams said the city street department was able to avoid similar problems within Logansport’s borders, where conditions weren’t as harsh.
“We have some windbreak,” he said.
The biggest obstacle Williams said the street department had to overcome was minding cars parked on the sides of streets while plowing.
“We don’t intentionally plow anybody in,” Williams said. “Our number one responsibility is to get the streets open.”
Having cleared Logansport’s roads by midday Tuesday, the city street department sent several of its trucks out to assist the county that afternoon. Smith said the highway department also used several of its vehicles normally used for tasks like mowing, gravel and road maintenance to fill the gaps left by plows that needed further servicing.
All main county roads were cleared by 6 p.m. Wednesday, Smith said. On Thursday, crews worked to finish back roads and widen intersections.
Now that temperatures are reaching highs that allow for salt to effectively melt snow, Smith said the department will start laying a salt-and-sand mix on county roads Thursday.
“We want to get this hard pack cut off of these roads and get them back to their pavement condition,” Smith said.
The Logansport Street Department started applying salt to city streets Thursday as well.
Smith said the highway department has already used more salt this winter than last year’s much milder winter. To date, the department has taken on 500 tons of the 650 tons it contracted for this winter, Smith continued, adding that the department can exceed the order by 20 percent without having to seek an appropriation for more.
Smith said he is appreciative of everyone who assisted the highway department through the conditions, including law enforcement, fire departments and the Logansport Street Department. He said he is also thankful for the patience of the residents who use county roads.
“It’s all very much appreciated,” he said.