Traffic mostly back to normal in Columbia Thursday

cleblanc@thestate.comJanuary 29, 2014 

— Traffic mostly returned to normal on Columbia interstates and downtown streets late Thursday morning.

Some streets in Columbia were jammed with traffic before 10 a.m. Thursday as schools and the University of South Carolina reopened at that hour.

Specifically, local gridlock was reported around A.C. Moore Elementary School on Rosewood Drive and Hand Middle School on Woodrow Street.

Traffic jams were also reported on Pendleton and Pickens streets around the USC campus.

Sand truck drivers and police officers were out again Wednesday night dealing with the aftermath of temperatures that kept the effects of a winter storm a day earlier frozen in place.

State and local law enforcement agencies repeated the message to motorists for Thursday: Avoid driving, take extra care if you have to navigate still-slick roads and be especially watchful on tree-lined, secondary roads where the sun’s warmth has not thawed the slush.

The S.C. Department of Transportation again warned of ice for a second consecutive day. “Travel will be treacherous and is not recommended unless absolutely necessary,” the agency said in an advisory.

For morning update on road conditions, click here

“There will be just as many sand trucks out tonight,” assistant Columbia city manager Missy Gentry said of the four trucks that were dispatched as the storm approached. “Today (Wednesday), we’ve been focused on secondary roads because the primaries were in good shape.”

With Columbia-area temperatures expected to plummet into the mid-teens by Thursday morning, Gentry advised drivers to avoid hilly parts of town such as Pickens Street near USC, the Sunset Drive/Broad River Road area and the climb along the Jarvis Klapman Boulevard/Hampton Street corridor from West Columbia.

Across South Carolina, the storm caused few power outages, but it slowed motorists, trimmed business hours and closed schools in the Midlands. The storm’s aftermath on Thursday delayed public school openings and the start of the Columbia-area’s bus system routes were delayed– all by two hours.

In the Lowcountry, people living on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island and at Mount Pleasant were burdened by the heavily traveled Ravenel and I-526 bridges over the Cooper River being closed for a second day. The state DOT said it was sending more help.

The state Highway Patrol overnight Wednesday kept its full complement of 750-plus troopers on the state’s roads again, said Lance Cpl. Billy Elder.

“The secondaries, right now, are still our major concern,” Elder said Wednesday afternoon. “The attention has turned to the secondaries.”

But as Wednesday’s slush hardens into Thursday’s sheets of ice, Elder said the patrol will redeploy overnight onto interstates and its ice-prone ramps. Some ramps at Malfunction Junction closed Wednesday morning for 30 to 40 minutes because of collisions caused by icy surfaces, said the patrol’s Lt. Kelley Hughes.

Public Works crews in Richland County were out again Wednesday preparing roads for the next hard freeze, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris said.

Collisions on I-20 near Clemson Road where the interstate is being widened caused difficulties for emergency crews, she said, adding that no major troubles were reported.

Lexington County administrator Joe Mergo said sunshine on Wednesday improved conditions along secondary roads that county work crews could not get to while they treated I-26 and I-20 with brine, sand or salt.

“Temperatures got above what was initially expected, and the sunshine made the roads a lot more passable,” Mergo said.

“The side roads look fine,” said County Councilman Jim Kinard, who represents the rural southern portion of the county and Wednesday drove from Swansea to his job in the town of Lexington.

Roads in the western edge of the county were passable, too, Batesburg-Leesville Mayor Rita Crapps said.

Still, some streets in the community and those nearby were slushy with patches of ice, so travel might become hazardous as standing water refreezes, she said.

Springdale police issued a travel advisory that drivers should be careful about refreezing, especially along bridges on Platt Springs Road and Rainbow Drive.

The worst of the winter storm hit after dark Tuesday, as the moisture turned from rain to snow in the central Midlands and to ice in the southern Midlands and coastal areas. Every county in the state received either sleet, freezing rain or snow, and some got all three.

Snow accumulations in the Midlands reached 2 to 4 inches. The official total for Columbia was 2.1 inches.

Statewide, the tally of wrecks, stranded motorists and abandoned vehicles skyrocketed to 1,475 during a 12-hour period between 4 p.m. Tuesday and 4 a.m. Wednesday, according to patrol statistics.

That total compares to 174 at precisely the same time a year ago, the patrol’s Hughes said. That’s an 84-fold increase.

Of the 1,475 calls to troopers, 817 were collisions, Hughes said. One person died in a collision in Beaufort County, but it was not related to the cold weather, the patrol reported.

Hughes did know how many of the collisions occurred in Richland or Lexington counties.

The only major incident in the Capital City area was a series of collisions that blocked a portion of Summit Parkway in Northeast Richland about 9 a.m. Tuesday for about 45 minutes, the patrol reported.

Columbia police worked 30 accidents between 7 p.m., when the snowfall began, and 9:30 Wednesday morning, interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said. None caused major injuries.

“It’s a whole lot quieter than we thought,” Santiago said.

Columbia residents, sandwiched between cold snaps, began moving around the city Wednesday as the weather eased.

After romping in the snow with his 3-year-old son, McClain, Darren Knight and the boy went to the gym and had a late lunch at Whole Foods. The roads seemed fine, Knight said.

Jennifer Blair and her 11-year-old daughter played in the snow early in the day. Later, Blair ran errands.

“It doesn’t bother me to drive in the snow,” she said. “I’m from up North.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664. Staff writers Joey Holleman, Tim Flach and Cassie Cope contributed.

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