GOSHEN — Drivers are being asked to stay off roads in unincorporated parts of Elkhart County until 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, to allow highway crews to clear snow and improve road conditions.
The county declared a state of emergency at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 27, after significant amounts of snowfall, strong winds, drifting snow and cold temperatures caused dangerous road conditions and, in some parts of the county, impassable roads. The state of emergency placed a restriction on non-emergency travel on rural county roads but not on city streets.
Some residents questioned why county officials waited until 8 a.m. to announce the travel advisory.
“I think everybody is regretting that it took so long to make this decision, and making that decision at 8 am. was probably the most inopportune time for county employees and employees at businesses,” county commissioner Mike Yoder said Monday afternoon. “I was out on the roads at 8 p.m. Sunday night, and things looked fine, but at some time around 9 p.m., it started snowing and blowing again.”
By the time county snow removal crews began working at 4 a.m., workers started reporting problems.
“Unfortunately, that’s about the same time we’ve got a lot of people heading to work, so those folks were finding drifted roads, and they were getting stuck,” Yoder said.
Highway crews and county law enforcement officers came across several cars stuck in ditches and snow banks throughout the early parts of the morning, Yoder said. By 6:30 a.m., he received a call from county highway manager Jeff Taylor suggesting travel restrictions.
“Because this is a process that involves the sheriff's office, the highway department, all three county commissioners and the emergency management department, it took until 7:30 a.m. to communicate with everyone to make sure that’s what we wanted to do,” Yoder said. “Our preference would have been to talk about this at 6 p.m. Sunday afternoon, but at that point, I’m not sure that we would have predicted that the roads were drifted shut like they were.”
County commissioner Terry Rodino also acknowledged that officials were slow to issue the initial advisory for the county.
“There were some issues, and the decision was not made as soon as it should have been, but we didn't have all the data to make the decision,” he said.
After 10 a.m. Tuesday, the county will move from a warning travel advisory to a watch travel advisory. The sheriff's department is cautioning drivers that "conditions are threatening to the safety of the public. During a local watch travel advisory, only essential travel, such as to and from work or emergency situations, is recommended. Emergency action plans should be implemented by schools, government agencies, and other organizations.”
County government offices were closed Monday because of the snow emergency. Employees who were already at work Monday morning were told to remain there until noon to give the highway department time to improve the road conditions. County offices will reopen at noon Tuesday.
The sheriff's department announced Monday that it would not issue citations to drivers on their way home from work but urged them to drive carefully.
"North and south roads are experiencing the most drifting and are down to one lane of travel in some locations," according to the sheriff's department.
Snow and icy conditions on roads that have been plowed are making it difficult for drivers to stop. If a vehicle is stranded, the sheriff's department can be called at 574-533-4151 for help.
St. Joseph County in Michigan is lifting its driving ban at noon Tuesday, according to a statement from St. Joseph County Sheriff Brad Balk.
"This early release was due to the cooperation of the citizens of St. Joseph County," Balk added. "Without the cooperation, the road commission would not have been able to clear the roads in a timely manner."
Because of the road conditions, The Elkhart Truth delayed paper delivery for many areas of the county until Tuesday, Jan. 28.