Caution: Winter weather ahead

and Michele Mihalovich

Oregon Department of Transportation officials are not happy with drivers this holiday season in Oregon.

"We saw a lot of sloppy driving out there," said ODOT's District Manager John Vial. "People are driving much too fast for the road conditions and too many of them aren't bothering to chain up."

He said drivers need to prepare for winter weather or stay off the roadways.

Oregon State Police reported two deaths this holiday season, and more snow is expected tonight through the weekend. The National Weather Service predicts a mix of snow, sleet and rain Saturday evening and a couple snow showers on Sunday.

Winter weather happens every year, but the snow and ice always seem to catch drivers by surprise. Although neither the city nor the police department tracks accidents caused by inclement weather, all agree it's best to be prepared.

Ashland roads

Are some areas best avoided when the weather turns nasty?

"We don't have any dangerous roads in Ashland," said John Peterson, street supervisor for the city of Ashland. "I would say a little more hazardous, maybe. If you're prepared you can pretty much go anywhere in town you want to go."

Although they often work together with the county and the Oregon Department of Transportation, the city is responsible for most roads within the city limits except for Highway 99, Highway 66, and Interstate 5.

"Every road around gets really slick," said Paul Rostykus who lives on Wimer Street, one of the many steep residential roads in Ashland. "I do see gravel on Wimer. Still, it's a steep hill, and it's slick. I see people going down doing a little bit of skidding."

Rostykus has mapped out the safest way to get down the mountain when the ice hits, and if the roads get too bad, he simply walks to work.

Although he said he thinks the city does a good job sanding and graveling the roads, he offered some advice for the times when the snow's coming down faster than crews can clear it away.

"Avoid it if you can," he said. "Drive slowly, drive carefully. If it gets real slick, you put on chains."

Rural roads

When venturing out onto icy streets, especially high altitude or rural roads, it's extremely important to think ahead, Peterson said.

"If you think it is unsafe outside, it probably is," he said. "Stay home if you can, go slow, carry tire chains and don't be afraid to put them on."

Peterson also included food, water and a cell phone as a list of must-haves, and in the event your car gets stuck, he said, stay out of the roadway and keep a watch out for other vehicles so you don't get hit.

Mike Kuntz, road maintenance supervisor for Jackson County added warnings about black ice, the invisible slick spots that can remain on the road even when temperatures climb above freezing. Although the county sands intersections and curves on roads such Dead Indian Memorial, black ice frequently pops up on straight stretches without sand.

"Drivers again need to be careful in the straightaways," Kuntz said. "We find sometimes they especially go too fast on straightaways and hit a shady area or patch of black ice."

The Greensprings highway, which is maintained by ODOT, often isn't plowed.

"That's a highway that we maintain at a fairly low level of service," said Vial of ODOT. "Packed snow and ice up there is normal, and drivers should expect that on very low volume, rural highways."

The I-5 mentality

However, the biggest problem area by far for ODOT is the Siskiyou Pass on the Interstate, Vial said.

Most problems are caused by what he calls the I-5 mentality, when drivers believe they can always drive 65 miles per hour, even over the pass, and never encounter problems.

But it's the only spot on I-5 that regularly receives heavy snowfall and requires chains.

"(Drivers) need to recognize 'I probably need to put chains on, and this is probably going to be a long trip,'" he said. "If you think like that then you're ready for it. If you don't, it's probably going to be a miserable trip."

Out-of town drivers contribute to accidents and slow-downs on the pass, but Southern Oregonians cause their fair share of problems, he said.

"Regardless of how much outreach we do to the public, we still constantly have people with no chains and who don't know how to install chains," he said.

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