AUGUSTA — Take your pick: an ice rink, a shiny mirror, a glass bottle.
Augusta area roads were coated in a glaze of ice Saturday as freezing rain pelted the region, creating treacherous commutes.
Cars crept along, generally bypassing the driveways and intersections where the drivers had intended to turn. Pedestrians slipped, skidded and fell.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, emergency responders shut down a section of U.S. Route 202 in Monmouth for almost an hour following a report of a head-on collision that left two vehicles blocking the road.
Later, officials reported a minivan that had spun in several circles on a roundabout near Interstate 95’s exit 113 in Augusta before disappearing from view.
Some emergency responses to motor vehicle accidents had to await the arrival of sand trucks as rain made already icy surfaces even slicker. In fact, it appeared there were fewer calls for tow trucks than for sand trucks, including private sand trucks. Once they arrived, most motorists were able to continue on their way or return home.
Augusta police were called to at least 10 traffic accidents starting about 6:30 a.m. It did not appear that the crashes resulted in serious injuries.
Other police agencies had their own incidents to attend to as a steady stream of accidents happened on capital-area roads. Accidents were reported in Winthrop, Farmingdale and elsewhere; and many roads were blocked as police reached accident sites.
Many scheduled events were canceled.
Even tire chains failed to provide enough purchase to keep trucks and cars anchored to the road.
Augusta Public Works crews were out early, spreading salt and sand on the roads in the capital.
“We’ve had seven sand trucks out since 7 a.m. focusing on the main arterials, the country roads and hills in the residential areas,” said Lesley Jones, Augusta’s public works director. “There’s a freezing rain advisory out, and they suggest you don’t travel if you don’t need to.”
Jones said trucks were spreading salt and sand because the salt would speed up the melting if temperatures rise as predicted.
She also said crews were dealing with minor flooding on streets where storm water basins were clogged.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch to remain in effect until 7 p.m. Sunday because of heavy rain expected late Saturday into Sunday. The forecast warned of flooding on rivers, roads and underpasses as well as possible ice jams.
Augusta police Lt. Kevin Lully said officers had responded to reports of more than a dozen accidents by 4 p.m. Saturday, including a rollover at 1:47 p.m. on North Belfast Avenue by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership that resulted in minor injuries, as well as to 20 to 30 reports of disabled vehicles off the road and traffic hazards.
“The lines have been nonstop all day,” said Lully, who was assisting with dispatching officers and forwarding some calls to public works crews. “We’ve had not less than 50 calls request for sand because of impassable roadways.”
One accident at 8:21 a.m. involved an Augusta police cruiser, which slid on the ice at Monroe and Washington streets, but sustained so little damage it was nonreportable, Lully said. However, because it involved a police vehicle, it was investigated.
Dan Brooks, Winthrop’s fire chief and emergency management director, said that at one point Saturday, three highway trucks had slid off the roads and five private contractors with smaller sanding trucks had to be called in to sand ahead of the heavier trucks so they could be steered once they were returned to the road. Sections of three roads had to be closed at various times during the morning.
“The highway crew has been out since 5 a.m.,” he said. “We’ve been running fire calls since 8.”
He said he had been working to help coordinate public works and police response to emergencies.
“The weather reports were leading us to believe it will warm up and clear off,” Brooks said on Saturday afternoon. “It’s actually freezing back over, so we have to go right back out and do it again.”
He said he expected sanding efforts to run all night.
“Troopers inland say icy roads have made travel treacherous,” Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said in a news release Saturday. “Many plow trucks have been having difficulty getting sand and salt on the roads until temps warm up during the day. Motorists need to be extra cautious or delay travel until later in the day.”
Road conditions seemed to improve from south to north by afternoon, but the improvement halted somewhere south of the capital region. At 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the Maine Turnpike Authority lifted the 45-mph speed limit from Kittery to Falmouth but left the lower limit in place for the section from Falmouth to Augusta.
Betty Adams — 621-5631