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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 09 2014

Icy metro roads lead to spike in crashes; warm weather to offer relief

MOORHEAD – Moorhead police are getting ready to hand out tickets to drivers who won’t slow down on the city’s icy streets.

There are typically 100 vehicle crashes a month in Moorhead, but 191 crashes were reported in December, Lt. Tory Jacobson said Thursday.

“The fact that we nearly doubled our crashes in December tells us we have to address this traffic safety concern,” he said, including more officers on duty and targeted enforcements in high-crash areas.

Fargo and West Fargo also reported more crashes in December, as some roads remained stubbornly slick in temperatures too cold for salt and sand to help much with icy, packed snow.

Fargo reported 524 crashes from Dec. 9 to Jan. 5, police Lt. Joel Vettel said. It was a leap from the previous month and previous year. From Nov. 11 to Dec. 8, there were 373 crashes in Fargo. Last year at the same time, there were 396 crashes, Vettel said.

“Let’s face it, it’s weather-related. I don’t think it’s surprising to us,” he said.

West Fargo saw 98 crashes in December, up from 63 in December 2012, Assistant Chief Mike Reitan said.

Reitan said the city’s growing population means more vehicles crowd the same roads, inviting more crashes. But the persistent, polished ice that’s been part of the recent cold snaps has also contributed.

“People (are) not adapting to the changing driving conditions. They continue to drive at a speed too fast for conditions,” Reitan said.

Warm relief

Chris Brungardt, acting public works director for West Fargo, said relief may be in sight. With temperatures expected to be above 15 degrees for the next week, salt, sand and brine mixtures will make a dramatic difference in driving conditions and make it easier for crews to scrape the roads, Brungardt said.

“My guess is, we get two more days of this, we’ll have all of our main roads down to bare pavement,” he said.

Randy Affield, Moorhead’s streets, sanitation and fleet division manager, said his crews have gotten arterial roads pretty clear, but some side streets can still be rugged.

Beyond counting on the stronger sun to work with the salt and sand already on roads, Affield plans to have crews work overnight early next week to scrape the worst of it off side streets.

Fargo street crews have already spread 5,000 tons of salt and sand mix and 1,500 to 2,000 tons of straight salt on the city’s roads, said Ben Dow, director of operations for public works. He said city crews will take advantage of the warmer days to get road graders on the side streets.

“When we get those peak temperatures, we try to scrape off what we can,” Dow said.

Body shops busy

Meanwhile, it’s the busy season at auto body shops.

“It’s a typical winter for us,” said Brennan Laudal, chief of operations at Intense Collision Center in south Fargo.

There are lots of bumpers to replace and more crashes that need extensive repair this year, said Laudal, who added that customers put the blame on icy roads.

At Sauvageau’s Firestone and Collision Center in Moorhead, many cars the shop sees for estimates are getting totaled out by insurance companies.

“It doesn’t take much to total a car out,” owner Dallas Sauvageau said.

Even small hits become big at 10 or 20 degrees below zero, he said. What would be a paint-rubbing tap in summer can shatter a bumper in deep winter.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583