SKOWHEGAN — Agencies across central Maine reported dozens of crashes and stranded motorists because of icy road conditions Wednesday afternoon, as freezing rain coated roads just in time for the evening commute.

Emergency responders and snowplows scrambled throughout the region following a series of crashes in Franklin and Somerset counties. Calls for help started flooding emergency 911 dispatch centers in the two counties around 2:30 p.m.

Within about an hour, the Somerset County dispatch center had reported more than 20 crashes. Many of the crashes and other weather-related traffic problems seemed to be happening in communities just north of Skowhegan, according to Greg Dore, road commissioner in Skowhegan.

On U.S. Route 201 north of Skowhegan, more than a dozen motorists were stranded in parking lots because freezing rain made the road on Yonder Hill impassable, Dore said around 3:30 p.m.

“They have nowhere to go because once you get started you can’t stop you car,” he said of the icy road conditions.

Maine Department of Transportation was sending snowplows to dump sand and salt on that stretch of highway and the other problem roads, many of which were in rural communities in more northern areas, Dore said.

At least two rollover crashes were reported on Route 27 in Somerset County, Dore said. Calls to law enforcement agencies and emergency management officials for details about crashes were not returned immediately.

A woman answering the phone at the Skowhegan Police Department said all the police officers were out responding to calls around 4 p.m.

Several cars and trucks had skidded off of roads in Farmington around the same time, and there was at least one rollover crash and other weather-related problems in neighboring towns, according to Farmington Chief Jack Peck. He didn’t have details about the crashes.

The National Weather Service in Gray issued a statement saying freezing rain and some sleet would make traveling hazardous until early this morning in portions of western Maine, mostly north of Farmington.

Another statement warned of similar road conditions across most of central Maine, but that the weather would improve by around 9 p.m.

Mark Turner, director of public works for the city of Waterville, said that city roads had been spared the more severe freezing rain. Temperatures hovered around 26 degrees about 3 p.m., creating a few problems with ice. But road conditions in the city were improving as temperatures inched toward the freezing point as of 4 p.m., he said.

When temperature start to rise just above 32 degrees, the freezing point, the ice begins to melt and become more manageable, Turner said.

Earlier in the day, the freezing rain wreaked havoc during the morning commute in southern Maine communities, which reported scores of weather-related crashes.

A collision involving three tractor-trailer trucks just south of the Interstate 95 bridge over the Piscataqua River closed the southbound lanes for several hours while crews worked to clear the accident. The crashes in New Hampshire backed up traffic in Maine for seven miles, according to news reports.

Maine Turnpike officials said the speed limit on portions of the highway had been lowered to 45 mph because of the icy weather.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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