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Heidi Shaffer, Published January 21 2011

Ice not nice for drivers

Driving on metro roads has become a slippery proposition as biting cold and persistent flurries create the perfect storm.

Road crews are out sanding and salting, but Mother Nature isn’t doing them any favors.

“It is difficult because the basic thing to get rid of the ice is to melt it,” said Chris Brungardt, assistant director of West Fargo public works.

With temperatures hanging around 40 degrees below the freezing point, a thaw isn’t likely. Sand and salt don’t do much good until it warms up, said Chad Martin, Moorhead’s director of operations.

“The sun has got to help. We need some warmth,” Martin said.

This month, snow has fallen all but three days, said WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler.

Those continued flurries are helping to create an ongoing ice problem, said Ben Dow, Fargo’s public works director.

“When you get light snowfall every day, it’s just a persistent, slippery environment,” Dow said.

In Fargo, traffic on primary routes is moving at fairly regular speeds, but frost in the morning creates slick conditions, Dow said. The iciest spots appear to be in less traveled residential streets, he said.

Fargo police are seeing a number of rear-end collisions, which tend to be common this time of year because of ice, said Fargo Sgt. Mike Bernier.

Drivers need to slow down and allow a good following distance between vehicles, he said.

But ice isn’t the only obstacle drivers face, Bernier said. High snowbanks are decreasing visibility at intersections and resulting in a few fender benders, he said.

Crews are out cutting down snow piles in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo.

“The list is mighty and long,” Dow said. Problem intersections called in by police and residents and areas around schools are first priority, he said.

Auto body shops around the metro are feeling the crunch with the number of accidents occurring on icy roads.

Troy Stoetzer and his staff of 23 employees at Fargo’s Quality Auto Body Shop are putting in overtime to get to the above-normal number of repairs, Stoetzer said.

Repairs are generally booking out about 10 days, up from what would normally be two to three days this time of year, he said.

The severity of damage is also up, he said.

“Damage in normal winter driving are some light fender benders,” he said. “We’re seeing the actual hits themselves are a little larger, especially the

ones that are highway related.”

As people get cars repaired, rental vehicles are tough to find in the metro, said Pete Sabo, owner of Fargo’s All American Auto on North University Drive.

“It’s more right now than ever,” Sabo said. “There are hardly any cars left in town.”

At Fargo’s Wallwork Car and Truck Rental, Manager Cory Nelles was also out of vehicles to rent Thursday, but cars were going to his regular traveling customers, not necessarily to those who have been in accidents.

“But it is unusual for us to be out of cars on a Thursday in January,” Nelles said.

Sam Walstad, an assistant manager at Fargo’s Hector Airport Budget Rent A Car location, said rentals generally go up at the beginning of snowfall “because people are out of practice with icy roads.”

Walstad’s location had vehicles available Thursday, but on Wednesday every car was out, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511