Drivers on the west side of Johnson County had commutes Thursday that were either free of snow and ice or were still as dangerously slippery as they had been at the start of the week.
The difference depended on whether drivers were traveling along main roads, such as State Road 135, or if they had to take Smith Valley, Olive Branch or Whiteland roads.
Most of State Road 135 was clear Thursday morning, as was much of Smith Valley Road between the Center Grove area and Greenwood.
But any driver who continued west along Smith Valley Road beyond State Road 135 found thick, treacherous patches of snow and ice that covered the road, making travel at even 20 mph dangerous. The streets of neighborhoods along Smith Valley Road, including Windsong Estates, which is across from Sugar Grove Elementary School, were also covered by packed snow.
That’s because the frigid temperatures earlier this week kept the salt from working. The road treatments don’t effectively melt snow and ice when temperatures drop below zero. That meant county highway crews weren’t able to effectively start clearing the streets until midweek — after the snow and ice had spent days bonding with the streets, and after drivers had been continually going over the icy layers with their cars, county highway director Luke Mastin said.
“We were stuck in a situation where we’re forced to try to remove that after the fact, which is the most difficult way to do it,” Mastin said.
The conditions were dangerous enough that Center Grove schools canceled school for the fourth straight day.
School officials had originally planned to start school two hours late on Thursday morning. But after assistant superintendent Bill Long and other administrators drove around surrounding neighborhoods and subdivisions Wednesday night, they realized they weren’t sure buses could get students to and from school safely, Long said.
“Honestly, (the streets) just hadn’t improved enough for us to be able to go,” Long said. “It wasn’t really the temperatures, it was just how rough the roads were.”
Tim Lory, whose daughter attends kindergarten at Sugar Grove Elementary School, was thankful that school officials decided to cancel classes.
Lory, who lives in Olive Branch Manor, which is between State Road 135 and Berry Road, had no problems driving along State Road 135 Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. But he had trouble traveling safely on Olive Branch Road Wednesday night, which is when he also saw at least one car that had either gone off the road or been in an accident.
“I think that’s pretty much the way it is for the side streets. It’s going to take a little bit longer for those to get cleared up,” Lory said.
Between 7 a.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. Thursday, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office had responded to 10 drivers who slid off the road, five accidents without injuries and one accident with injuries.
Sometimes if drivers have been spending lots of time on main roads, where crews have been continually salting and plowing, they might think they can drive equally fast on rural roads. But they need to remember not all roads in the county have been salted or plowed, and driving too quickly on those roads can cause accidents, Cox said.
“Once again, just take extra time. Keep in mind that not all of the roads are in as good of shape as some of the others,” Cox said.
County highway crews worked Thursday in neighborhoods and along the roads of White River Township using a liquid de-icing product to break the bond between the ice and the pavement. Between the liquid product and the warmer temperatures, Mastin hoped road conditions would be improved for Center Grove area drivers returning home in the evening, he said.
“We’re just moving through the area as quickly as we can, trying to address as many (problems) as we can, while the temperatures are warm,” Mastin said.
Lory’s daughter typically rides the bus to school each morning, but Lory wasn’t sure Thursday if the weather would be safe enough for his daughter, or other Center Grove students, to get to school today. Along with the slick road conditions, snow has piled up at Lory’s daughter’s bus stop, meaning she and other kids would have to stand in the street while waiting for the bus, Lory said.
Lory planned to drive his neighborhood roads again Thursday night to see if they had improved. But with temperatures in the 40s expected this weekend, he thinks Center Grove should move the return to school to Monday, so the higher temperatures can help melt the snow and ice.
“If they’re still in the shape they were (Wednesday) night, I would say it would be better just to cancel (today) as well,” Lory said.