Icy roads lengthen commute times in central Indiana

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As more people headed back to work Wednesday morning, the icy roads got their first real workout since the snow storm.

We've spent the last three days checking the road conditions and by far, Wednesday morning was the biggest improvement we've seen. Warming temperatures combined with the salt put down by Indy Snow Force is breaking up the ice. Plus, plow trucks are on the move, clearing the developing slush.

Still, that didn't mean it was easy. While some drivers were lucky enough to see the pavement, sheets of packed ice and snow remained, causing slow commutes, slide-offs and crashes. 

During this morning's rush hour commute, we noticed a lot more traffic on the road than in the past two days. While there is still plenty of packed snow and slick spots, we talked with several commuters who said despite some challenges the roads are manageable. 

"You have to worry about the intersections and whether they're going to be slick and watch other people and how they're turning on the intersections," said Anna Washington.

"I avoided 465 because it seemed a little slower but the back roads were even worse and there's no quick way to get in," said Lenny Cavender.

"Cars are going too slow and people are trying to get around them and then they get stuck in the rough stuff on the side," said Jim Quillin.

Some of the biggest concerns were on the side streets and in neighborhoods, which were lower on the priority list. Here, if we didn't see snow obstacles, we saw other obstacles thanks to the heavy snowfall.  

Indy Snow Force tells us in addition to the 90 city plows working the main roads, they have contracted an additional 225 trucks to plow the secondary roads.

Indianapolis Department of Public Works trucks were able to salt many of the snow-packed main streets in Indianapolis Tuesday as air temperatures warmed up.  

"That helped break up some of the packed snow," said DPW spokesperson Leslie Gordon Wednesday morning.

Gordon said the DPW plan for Wednesday is to put down another round of salt to break up the hard pack even more, then plow again to hopefully expose smooth pavement.

Until then, "Expect a bumpy ride," Gordon said. 

On Wednesday, the morning commute stretched well past 9:00 am, with traffic along Fall Creek Parkway inching along. Many roadways remain snow- and ice-covered, with drivers struggling to find lanes.

State Troopers are warning drivers that while roads may be passable now, they're no less treacherous.

"This is still a sheet of ice in some areas," said Master Sergeant Patrick Etter of the Indiana State Police. "(Wednesday's) gonna be worse. I think a lot more people are going to be coming back to work and not going to realize that the roads are this slick."

Tuesday night on the highway with Indiana State Police, our Eyewitness News crews saw the danger over and over again with slide offs, semis stuck and even Interstates shut down for hours.

I-70 Westbound near the Plainfield exit was especially tough on large trucks.

"Here's our problem. These semis are just stuck on this incline because this hill here is just a sheet of ice," Etter explained. "Semis are getting stuck on it and jackknifed where they can't get up the hill. "As soon as we got it cleared off, we had two more that were stalled."

With wheels just spinning, Troopers and INDOT crews were shoveling sand under truck tires to give them traction.

But the result was a major backup along the Interstate, something you'll likely see more of for the Wednesday morning commute, especially with so many drivers headed back to work.
Troopers say even when any road appears to be clear, don't expect to go more than 25 miles an hour.

"Also, just because another person passes you, they may be in a four-wheel drive car or not as smart. You'll see them eventually again on the side of the road," Etter said.

The biggest problems police have witnessed are tailgating, people going too fast for conditions and people with too much false confidence in their car's ability to maintain traction.

"Bottom line is, if you have to go to work tomorrow, or you have to get out, is give yourself a lot of extra time and to go slow," Etter said.

And Gordon echoed the advice for city streets.

Police recommend to at least double your drive time for Wednesday's commute - and until the roads are clear.