Highway 20’s crazy corner to be sanded

In the aftermath of three car accidents Jan. 3, the Washington State Department of Transportation will stop using a liquid de-icer on Highway 20 near the intersection of Arnold Road south of Oak Harbor.

The de-icer is suspected to be the cause of three separate car accidents Monday afternoon, Jan. 3, that happened moments apart. In each accident, motorists lost control of their cars and slid off the roadway.

“Why that happened, we’re not sure,” said Ted Dempsey, maintenance and operations superintendent for the DOT. “We’re not going to use (de-icer) at that one spot.”

Once the Department of Transportation learned of the accidents, workers checked the machinery and the weather conditions. Dempsey said that the liquid was applied within specifications.

Instead of using the liquid, work crews will place sand with a solid chemical de-icer on the road during cold conditions. The substance in the sand is a salt-based chemical that is coated with a substance that helps inhibit corrosion.

Dempsey said that employees sprayed liquid de-icer on 274 miles of highway on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 3 and 4. Dempsey said the Arnold Road accidents were the only incidents that happened where the liquid was suspected to be the cause.

Work crews spray the de-icer on hills, corners, bridges and shady areas. Motorists can sometimes see the small stripes on the road where the substance is sprayed.

A similar accident occurred in the same spot two years ago that was blamed on the use of the liquid de-icer. Dempsey said he doesn’t know why the situation at Arnold Road causes the slippery conditions when the liquid is sprayed.

Coupeville resident, Bill Carstensen, saw first hand the slick conditions from the de-icer. About a year ago, Carstensen was traveling on the highway near Arnold Road and noticed the small stripes left by the de-icing liquid and a van in front of him started sliding around because of the road surface.

He saw sand on the road recently and favors it over the de-icer.

“I prefer the sand myself,” Carstensen said, explaining that it provides a better way for the car to get traction during icy conditions.

That stretch of Highway 20 is a high accident area that has seen 10 additional accidents in the past year. All accidents involved cars going off the roadway and have happened in both dry and wet conditions, Dempsey said.

“People come around that corner too hot all the time,” Dempsey said, suggesting that motorists slow down when approaching the area.

He said the suspect de-icing product is considered safe and helps make conditions more manageable for motorists.

“We want everybody to be safe. I believe the use of anti-icing products will save lives,” Dempsey said.

The problems near Arnold Road are not unique. Dempsey said the DOT has dealt with claims over the use of the de-icer in the past.

Officials say that since 1998, 33 claims have been filed with the state DOT blaming the de-icer on the road for accidents. WSDOT paid $260,000 on 18 on those claims; two claims became lawsuits, one of which was dismissed and the other is still pending, said Bill Henselman, risk manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation. The remaining claims were closed without payment.

He added that the 33 claims stem from 12 separate incidents. In other words, more than one person involved in each accident may have filed a claim.

Henselman said two people involved in the Jan. 3 accidents, Sally Elder and Rosemary Magtira, have called the DOT asking for a claim form. He said he didn’t have any more information about the specific incident. Neither could be reached for comment.

While the Department of Transportation deals with claims concerning de-icer on the road, Henselman said they also get it from the other side. The state is also facing litigation from people who say enough hasn’t been done to make the roads safe.

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