MODOT workers had already treated highways in the St. Louis region Tuesday night in advance of a small Winter storm predicted to arrive sometime Wednesday morning.
They had visions of the traffic nightmare from January 12th, still fresh in their minds.
A small amount of snow that day, 1.8 inches, officially, turned 15 - 20 minute commutes, into 2-3 hour marathons for drivers.
Major highways had a coat of salt brine solution before the Tuesday evening rush. They were slated to get another before the morning rush.
That was not the case, January 12th.
"Thursday, January 12th, cast in our minds," said MODOT Assistant District Engineer, Tom Blair, seeming to smile and grimace at the same time.
"I live here in St. Charles, it took me like, 2 hours to get to Creve Coeur," lameted driver, Tangi Fuller. "Usually it takes me about 15 minutes. 2 hours !"
"2 and ½ hours to drive to Brentwood (from St. Charles)," said driver, Ben Blankenship. "It was horrible. Cars were off the road. I don`t think MODOT was ready for it. I think they should have been out a lot earlier than they were."
"The temperature dropped dramatically and once it dropped, we were stuck in traffic with everybody else," Blair said.
Still, the MODOT staff conducted a review of their response to conditions that day. They found they knew better than to leave themselves at the mercy of a St. Louis winter; they need to be ready for things like a dramatic temperature drop, even when you least expect it.
"We had quite a few trucks out there running and dropping salt by 2:00 a.m.," Blair recalled. "In hindsight, that wasn't early enough to get ahead of it. Also in hindsight, to do it in the future, we`ll spread more chemicals, we'll drop more salts on the roads, because once traffic picks up we just can`t make the rounds."
He said this time, all of the more than 200 MODOT trucks would be ready to go at midnight, to get a jump on the more than 6,000 highway miles MODOT covers in the St. Louis region, so January 25th will not be another January 12th.
"I almost passed out - but what can you do ?" Fuller laughed.
"We will be aggressively fighting the storm even before it ever touches the ground," Blair said.
"We are good at this. We have learned some from what happened a couple of weeks ago."
He said MODOT moved 35 inches of snow from highways in the St. Louis region last winter. On January 12, MODOT had more than half of its trucks out by 2:00 a.m., 4 hours before the morning rush, and it was still too late. They`ll run the risk of overreacting this time.
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