With Ice Still On Boise's Roads, ACHD Defends Its Plowing Practices

Nov 19, 2014

Parts of Parkcenter Boulevard are packed with ice Nov. 19, 2014.
Credit Jodie Martinson / Boise State Public Radio

The Ada County Highway District (ACHD) is defending itself from criticisms over how it cleared -- or didn't clear -- the roads after last week's snow dump. A record-setting 7.6 inches of snow fell at the Boise Airport on Thursday and Friday.

Police departments tweeted warnings to drivers to mind the conditions after helping hundreds of vehicles involved in fender-benders and spins off the road.

Now, almost a week later, many major roads in Boise, Eagle, and Meridian still have snow and ice in patches and many drivers are complaining about why it's taken so long to clear.

The ACHD follows the following snow policy

ACHD generally favors anti-icing and sanding to plowing as the most effective treatment for the county's normal winter conditions. Plowing is done when the snow accumulation is so intense that the roads would otherwise be impassable. In general, snow storms are followed by periods of above-freezing temperatures, which can create black-ice conditions when the melted water refreezes after sundown. Plowing can create snow banks, which compound the black-ice problem. That's why the District employs anti-icing treatments, which help maintain traction on the roads and promotes snowmelt. Sanding improves traction on roads where snow remains. 

Ada County Highway District spokesman Craig Quintana says deicer is made from magnesium chloride. It prevents snow from bonding with the road and creating ice. However, deicer becomes ineffective as snow accumulates. Quintana says his organization was surprised by how much snow fell before the afternoon commute on Thursday, and ACHD wasn't able to get plows out on the road until after traffic had slowed down. 

Now, the leftover snow has turned to ice on many roads around Ada County. Quintana says crews are still working to address that problem. 

"I've noticed, personally, the ruts on Fairview and State Street," he said. "Our plows have been out there trying to carve those down some more. So we're hoping that repeated passes will get us where we need to be and improve those conditions for folks."

Quintana says the ACHD has 23 plows tasked with clearing 626 miles of "major routes" including arterials and collectors across the county. He says, even though residents have complained to him, it is impractical to plow the 1,600 miles of residential roads because of cost. 

Quintana says the plows will continue to scrape away at Ada County's ice-packed roads for the next few days. But ultimately, he hopes some warming trends in the forecast will solve the problem.

As for defending the ACHD's decision to start with deicer last Thursday and leave the plows off the roads until well after a couple inches of snow had fallen, he believes it was in line with what officials would do in other communities like Reno, Nev. or Spokane, Wash. 

"We think we're right there with the rest of the industry in how we approach these things," he said. 

Find Jodie Martinson on Twitter @JodieMartinson

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