For truckers, safety is the word in weather

A West Point Public Works worker spreads sand on icy spots along Main Street Tuesday.
Staff Writer

Whether across town or across country, Tuesday's weather forced many trucking operations to shut down or dramatically curtail their trips.

And for road crews charged with trying to keep it safe for trucks and everyone else, it was a busy day as the frosty stuff came in waves and then bitter cold settled in, freezing water remaining on roads
"We pulled all our trucks off the road and will check again at 8 in the morning. We made some deliveries Tuesday morning but as it kept getting worse, we just brought everyone in," explained Carl
Hager III, general manager at Better Brands Distributing, who monitors conditions through a variety of sources, including the Highway Patrol, to stay on top of road conditions.

"We could sell a week's worth of product, but it's nowhere near enough if someone gets hurt," Hager added.

Safety was the watchword for those in the trucking business.

GoBox, which hauls everything from trash and scrap to wood chips and storage bins, also took its trucks off the road.

"Nothing is worth the risk of someone getting hurt," GoBox owner Rob Graham said. "The landfill shut down, and the other waste companies parked their trucks. And so did a lot of the scrap yards. It was just the right thing to do. We may have to work Saturday to make it up, but that's okay."

"It's a lick on the economy, but everyone is thinking safety," echoed Wanda Shelton, director of operations for West Point-based Royal Trucking, which has as many as 250 drivers hauling nationwide.

"It's hard on drivers because they are out trying to deliver their loads, but their customers have to look out for their workers, too...some of our customers are closed today, the weather hampers business for everyone," Shelton said.

Royal's drivers have flexibility to find a safe place and get off the roads if they think that's the best option.

"They know what's happening where they are better than anyone. They know and understand the conditions. It can be a tight rope sometimes, but safety is the first guide. We can make it up later," she explained.

Although the "South is getting better" at handling icy weather, it still is a far cry from the Northeast and Midwest where the kind of weather that hit North Mississippi Tuesday hardly would have been a hiccup.

"Some other areas are just accustomed to it, they are more prepared, they handle road conditions better. The conditions in Mississippi sometimes make delays worse," Shelton said, noting long periods of good weather often allow companies like theirs to do more business at times.

"With the weather, it all works out over time usually."

For road crews, some of the work may be just beginning. On days like Tuesday, they have to monitor conditions throughout the day and then into the night when melted snow freezes, becoming 'black ice,' especially on bridges.

Continued cold means icy conditions likely will linger for another day or two.

For big agencies like the state Department of Transportation or even cities, juggling staffing can be a problem but it's even worse for smaller groups like Clay County supervisors, who manage their crews in their districts.

"We just keep the bridges sanded, keep them open, keep the roads open," said District 3 Clay County Supervisor R.B. Davis as he worked on roads in his district.

"My crews have been hard at it. And my constituents are pretty understanding. They'll call about a spot if it gets bad, and they understand we'll get to it as fast as we can," Davis added.

Clay supervisors, like many road crews across the region, rely on sand and chipped gravel to combat snow and ice. They don't use salt because it would be useless to buy it and not use it very often.
"We use materials that we already keep around and use all the time," Davis explained.

And the snow and ice are just the beginning of the problems.

The water gets into cracks in pavement and freezes. When it thaws, the cracks get worse. That process over time results in potholes.

"That'll be the next problem. If we can get through this weather, that'll be what we worry about next, trying to get the potholes fixed," Davis said. "But it's one thing at a time."