GOSHEN — Street crews in Elkhart County faced a problem during the most recent snowstorm that they have not had to deal with in a while.
Snow-clogged traffic lights created hazards for drivers at intersections throughout the county. Heavy, wet snow collected on the lenses of the traffic signals, especially on LED lights facing north and south. The lights are brighter, more energy efficient and last longer, but they do not give off as much heat as the older style incandescent bulbs, according to Goshen street commissioner Denny Long.
“We ended up having the fire department come out and spray a little water on each one of the southbound lights to wash the snow off,” he said. “The difference this time, it was a heavy snow and it got stuck easily, where every snow we’ve had this year has been a dry snow, which basically blows away.”
Snow obscuring traffic signals can be dangerous, Long said. A driver involved in a fatal crash Wednesday, March 12, in Elkhart told police that he could not see the lights well enough because they were covered in snow.
“It’s just one of those perfect storms, I hate to say,” Long added.
Some cities are installing small heaters on LED traffic lights to melt snow, but Long said the heaters add to the cost of operating the signals.
In eight years with the Indiana Department of Transportation, communications director Toni Mayo said she has never seen a winter as severe as this one.
“This has been an unusually fierce winter for us,” she said. “Our crews worked 16-hour shifts with four bucket trucks on Wednesday, and we tried to get out to as many intersections as we could.”
When traffic lights and signs are covered with snow, Mayo said drivers should approach intersections cautiously and treat lights as four-way stops.
“Engage your most defensive driving skills when you enter that intersection,” she said.
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.