Road conditions in Portland were treacherous during Thursday’s snowfall, which yielded around six to eight inches of snow in the area.
That meant for an extremely busy day and evening for Chief Jason Williams and the Portland Police Department. The department worked to assist with traffic and helping stranded motorists or drivers who had been involved in fender benders due to the snow. It also meant a busy day and evening for the city’s public works employees, who not only had to clear roads, but also deal with frigid overnight lows with temperatures falling into the single digits in the aftermath of the snowstorm.
For Williams, he said the situation was not as bad as it could have been.
“We didn’t have any road closings here in town. We did have about 15 to 20 either stranded motorists or vehicles off the roadway or accidents that we worked that required our intervention,” Williams said Friday. “Of course, there were more than that people just slid off the road and just left their vehicles. But there were probably 15 to 20 that we had to intervene in that were traffic hazards. It was worse (Thursday) with how quick that snow came in and everybody trying to get home. They’re still trickling in now, but just not at the same level we had (Thursday).”
It also helped that there was only one incident involving a tractor trailer truck getting stuck in town. That happened on Davis Street, but was not a serious matter.
Williams said the number of calls for help during the storm was not as numerous as last year when a snowstorm swept through the area.
“Overall I would say it was a little better this time than it was last time. I don’t know if this time people were better prepared or what, but it didn’t seem like there were as many problems as there were last year,” Williams said. “There were plenty, but it wasn’t like last year where there were just cars everywhere where you’d drive down the road and there were just abandoned cars everywhere. I think people did a better job of listening to advice and staying home when the could.”
The situation Thursday during the storm was challenging, but did not require the city to call in any extra officers to assist with managing the road conditions.
“We were able to handle it with what we had. We had some admin people that go out and helped. We were all pretty much out doing that instead of our normal office work that we might be doing,” Williams said.
For the Portland area, there were no serious injuries reported from Thursday’s snow.
Mayor Mike Callis praised the city’s street crews and EMS workers for their work Thursday, as well as crews from Cumberland Electric to stay on top of any possible power outages.
“Our first responders and street crew have done an amazing job, as well as utility crews working to keep everyone with service,” the Mayor said.
Road conditions were even maintained down along the ridge as there were no roads shut down, not even the ridge on Highway 109 between Portland and Gallatin.
“I think there was a backup a few times there, but I don’t know if it ever got shut down,” Williams said. “I know over in Westmoreland, they shut down the ridge (Highway 31E) over there, but I think they were able to pretty much keep 109 open.”
Williams has advice for when such hazardous conditions come about regarding driving. In one word, “Don’t.”
The police chief said that drivers who absolutely do not have to be on the roads should stay home and stay safe.
“The best course of action is to stay home. What happens is usually people are running around here just trying to see things. They end up sliding off the road, and that ends up taking resources from other things that are needed when we’re having to deal with that type of thing. It’s always best just to stay home if you’re able,” he said.
In have-to cases, extreme caution and care must be exercised in getting out onto the roads.
“Obviously some people can’t stay home, and if you can’t, the best approach is to just be patient, take your time and drive carefully and understand that braking and acceleration don’t work the same when there’s ice on the road as opposed to when it’s not,” Williams said. “Turning in seems to be the biggest problem sometimes. They’ll be driving down the road and they’re fine driving straight down the road, but they don’t realize you’ve got to start slowing down way sooner when you’re ready to turn, and they end up sliding off into the ditch.
“And also you have a lot of them that come up on a stop sign and instead of slowing down way back, they wait too long, and end up sliding into the intersection. Patience and caution are the two best words if you end up having to get out and drive on this.”