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Battle to keep Pierce County roads cleared hampered by freezing temperatures, officials say

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logo News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 12/29/2021 Josephine Peterson, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Dec. 28—READ MORE — Snow Days 2021

The frigid cold that gripped Western Washington and dumped several inches of snow in the city is expected to stick around.

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Pierce County, Puyallup and other cities spent Monday clearing arterial roads of snow and ice, but freezing temperatures made it difficult.

According to the National Weather Service, Sunday's snowstorm dumped varied amounts across the Puget Sound region. East Pierce County saw some of the highest recorded snowfall, with Bonney Lake reporting 7.6 inches. Most of Pierce County saw between 4 and 5.5 inches of snow.

Pierce County's 28 snowplow trucks were working a 24-hour operation, county spokesperson Erin Babbo said Monday. The county has dozens of prioritized roads to clear from Key Peninsula to Greenwater. Arterial roads include Canyon Road, Orting-Kapowsin Highway, 176th Street East, Sumner-Buckley Highway and Wollochet Drive.

The trucks have been plowing since the snow started, Babbo said. Crews pre-treated the roads before the snow fell and intend to repeat the treatment once roads are cleared.

The area is expected to continue to see temperatures below freezing for the rest of the week, with a chance of more snow on Thursday. Pierce County is concerned about the underlying ice on the roads. The unusually low temperatures challenged attempts to clear roads because salt can't melt or prevent ice from bonding in extreme cold.

"We try to address the ice by applying a preventative application of ice kicker before it snowed and one after the snow stopped and will do another application this afternoon to try and get our roads to bare and wet. Also, continued plowing," Babbo said.

Tacoma crews have cleared North Pearl, Sixth Avenue, Pacific Avenue, South Tacoma Way and most streets downtown but do not have the manpower or time to clear residential streets.

Lakewood prioritized South Tacoma Way and Bridgeport Road, making them passable, spokesperson Jim Kopriva said Monday. Crews started pre-treatment and snow clearing before 5 a.m. on Sunday.

The city's eight snowplows are working on secondary and tertiary roads like 108th Street, Gravelly Lake Drive, Custer Road, Washington Boulevard and residential streets.

The weather forecast has the city worried.

"The persistent cold means that road ice will be a problem everywhere," Kopriva said. "Many Lakewood roads were cleared and driven to the point of being bare and wet today — we will hit those with brine tonight to prevent ice from forming. Even when roads appear cleared, ice may form in this cold."

Puyallup has cleared major north-south roads like Meridian, Fruitland and Fairview. Roads are prioritized based on use, steep hills and sharp curves, intersections and access to hospital and emergency services, city spokesperson Eric Johnson said.

"As much as we'd like to clear every street in town, due to limited resources we cannot get to every street and neighborhood right away," Johnson said. "If you live in a neighborhood that is not prioritized for plowing or deicing, please stay home."

The city's four snow plows and three deicing trucks began plowing and de-icing late Saturday evening, Johnson said.

As of Monday afternoon, the city's trucks are clearing "Level 3" roads like West Pioneer, 23rd Avenue Southwest, and East Stewart, but the city plans to revert back to more prioritized roads.

"With the freezing temperatures expected to come in tonight, we'll need to switch back to focusing on Level 1 and 2 for re-treatment," Johnson said.

The City of Puyallup is asking residents to stay off the roads.

"Residents need to stay home and avoid driving as much as possible. If you can work remotely, then please utilize that option," Johnson said. "If that is not an option, then please drive slowly."

University Place is also cautioning residents to stay inside so crews can plow snow or treat roads, according to a Facebook post.

Smaller cities like Orting were getting roads cleared Monday. Orting Mayor Josh Penner said WSDOT and the city's plow were out clearing and treating main roads. He was worried about hills, like those in Puyallup and on Military Road.

"Our goal is to get the secondary and neighborhood routes passable with this brief reprieve," Penner said.

Enumclaw Mayor Jan Molinaro told residents in a social media post that city crews have plowed, sanded and salted roads around and to the hospital as a priority. Downtown streets have been plowed and will continue to be.

"Sand and salt will continue to be put down," Molinaro said.

This story was originally published December 28, 2021 5:00 AM.


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