TxDOT Gears up for Stormy Weather

By Sarah Modestin | DFW Newsflash | December 2019

Dallas — With the scorching Texas heat gone and temperatures dropping, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is preparing to keep Texas highways safe in case of severe winter weather and icy roads.

“We start preparing for winter weather early in the fall,” Tony Hartzel, TxDOT public information officer, said. “We make the decision on when to pre-treat [highways] based on the weather forecast.”

Servicing equipment, stockpiling inventory, and reviewing and updating winter maintenance operations plans are some of the behind-the-scenes activities TxDOT does in anticipation of harsh winter temperatures.

“Safety is our first priority at TxDOT,” Val Lopez, TxDOT public information officer, said.

Remembering the dangerous 2013 road conditions created when ice combined with sand laid down by TxDOT and city trucks, causing cobblestone-like chunks of unstable ice to cover the roads, Lopez assures there have been some major changes since then in how TxDOT prepares for severe weather.

“[We now use] brine,” Lopez said. “The brine is used in other parts of the country. It’s a salt and water combination.”

On the roads this season, Texas drivers may see brine-spraying trucks and the slush that is formed during the process.

“If you drive around before the major event and you see stripes on the roadway, that’s the brine,” Lopez said. “What we want to do is have it dry on [roads] so when the precipitation falls, it hits that salt and turns into a slush. You don’t want that precipitation to bond on the roadways. The slush is good.”

The pre-treatment application of brine on the roads is a technique that has evolved over the past several years.

“You let [the brine] dry, and it basically acts as an antifreeze,” Lopez said. “It lowers the freezing point of water.”

With brine sprayers in each of the seven Dallas counties and briefings from the weather service twice a day, TxDOT representatives feel they are well prepared for winter weather.

“[Texas] get[s] more ice than actual snow,” Lopez said. “Ice is a very different animal than snow. It’s heavy. It’s denser. You can’t plow it off. It’s not snow; that’s the problem. We try to prevent that ice from bonding onto the roadway.

“Our focus, primarily, of the anticipated weather is our bridges and overpasses. They are the structures most vulnerable to icing over first.”

“We’ve seen a lot,” Jonathan Roddy, TxDOT employee, said. “Safety, safety, safety is the main thing we preach. That’s first and foremost.”

Here are some tips from TxDOT for safe winter driving:

  • Decrease speed and leave plenty of room to stop. Drivers should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase visibility to other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Do not use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Do not pass snowplows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you are likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Do not assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.