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Archie Ingersoll, Published December 06 2013

VIDEO: As cold foils de-icing system, I-94 sees two pileups in two days

FARGO – Nine vehicles were involved in a chain-reaction pileup on an icy stretch of Interstate 94 on Friday morning, injuring two people and tangling traffic, authorities said.

The crashes happened about 9 a.m. in the westbound lanes near the Red River bridge, causing delays in the area for more than an hour. The bridge has an anti-icing system, but the system wasn’t working because it was too cold.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Trooper Scott King said he initially responded to a report of vehicles that had spun out on the west end of the bridge.

“Just after I arrived, numerous accidents started happening behind us,” King said. “People were just driving too fast for the conditions.”

King said there were six or seven accidents that involved a total of nine vehicles. Numerous other drivers spun out or went into the ditch but were able to drive away without help, he said.

Two motorists were taken to a hospital with injuries, the patrol said in a statement.

The scene of the pileup stretched from North Dakota into Minnesota. The crashes caused a significant backup, and it wasn’t until shortly before 10:30 a.m. that authorities were able to open all lanes of traffic.

King said road conditions are generally good but that the Red River bridge has lately proved troublesome for drivers. On Thursday morning, a two-vehicle crash in the westbound lanes near the bridge backed up traffic for a couple of miles.

The bridge is equipped with an anti-icing system, but it does not work when the surface temperature drops below 6 degrees, said Jerimiah Moerke, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the westbound lanes of the bridge.

When sensors on the bridge detect certain conditions, about 40 sets of nozzles in the bridge surface spray chemicals onto the road, Moerke said.

The system in the eastbound lanes, which is maintained by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, works the same way.

“When it gets so cold, basically, all our chemicals are not effective,” said Kevin Gorder, an NDDOT assistant district engineer.

On frigid days like Friday, road crews are left with sand and plows to deal with ice on the bridge.

“We’re doing what we can, but right now, we’re a little limited because of Mother Nature’s temperatures,” Gorder said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Archie Ingersoll at (701) 451-5734