By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Rough roads have caused headaches for Minnesota drivers since last Saturday night, in what’s been called one of the worst ice storms in the last 20 years.
The State Patrol reported more than 400 accidents and several injuries — and that was just on major roads and highways.
The transportation department said Mother Nature threw a curveball last weekend and it was not able to react as quickly as it wanted.
But AFSCME, the union representing the state’s snow plow operators, said MnDOT didn’t call them soon enough so it could save money.
Minnesota’s snow plow operators say they were ready to go on Saturday night, but they didn’t get the call to work until it was too late to do any good.
“I don’t think this was a secret to anyone this was coming,” said Bart Andersen, a union leader for the drivers — and a former snow plow operator himself.
He said the calls for help went out late — so the state could save money.
“But they had indicated that they were going to be monitoring the amount of overtime,” Andersen said.
The Saturday night scare saw hundreds of icy crashes, countless slip-sliding drivers who first lost control, then patience.
At MnDOT’s metro headquarters Wednesday, the man in charge said the ice storm came sooner than expected, that’s all. And charges of budget cutting? No way, no how, he said.
“We’ll spend any resources, any money that it would take to make sure the roadways are safe for the driving public,” said Mark Fischbach, of MnDOT.
Meterologists predicted the rain would turn to ice Saturday night, but MnDOT said de-icing chemicals are ineffecitve when wet roads freeze.
Union leaders say because MnDOT waited too long, the drivers who were called got stuck themselves.
“Some of our folks weren’t able to even get into the truck station,” Andersen said. “Some of our drivers weren’t able to even get out of their driveways.”
MnDOT said 13 snowplows got into crashes last weekend, marking the most ever.
With this latest storm, however, it’s all hands on deck.
MnDOT said they have every available snowplow crew on duty starting at 3 a.m. this morning.