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Images don't tell whole story | Twin Cities cooperated during storm

by Karl Richter | February 19, 2021 at 11:07 p.m. | Updated February 20, 2021 at 1:21 a.m.
This screen capture show an image of North State Line Avenue in Texarkana, with Texarkana, Arkansas, on the right and Texarkana, Texas, on the left. First captured and published by the Weather Channel, the image went viral Tuesday, with many social media users drawing conclusions from it about the two states' relative preparedness for winter weather.

TEXARKANA - Viral images of North State Line Avenue half-cleared of snow and ice do not tell the whole story of response to the most debilitating local winter weather event in 20 years, but that has not stopped social media users from drawing conclusions from them.

Captured by the Weather Channel as part of its reporting on a pair of major winter storms that struck the region within days this week, the videos and photos show the Arkansas side of State Line Avenue cleared of snow and ice while the Texas side remained covered. Many Twitter and Facebook users, seemingly eager to criticize Texas in the wake of its power-outage crisis, seized on the snapshot as indicative of the two states' relative preparedness for winter weather. A closer look shows that both cities of Texarkana, as well as the Arkansas and Texas departments of transportation, have worked tirelessly - and at times cooperatively - all week to mitigate driving hazards during a rare emergency.

More than 15 inches of snow fell from Sunday through Wednesday in the region, where average snowfall is about one-tenth of that total for the entire year. Days of record-low subfreezing temperatures caused dangerous road icing that all but shut down both Texarkanas in a way that locals have not seen since a crippling ice storm in the winter of 2000 and 2001.

Arkansas-side public works began pre-treating bridges before the storms' arrival and worked continuously to sand, salt and clear streets even as the snowfall quickly covered them again.

City and Arkansas Department of Transportation crews worked together Tuesday and Wednesday to clear the east side of State Line. On Wednesday, ARDOT also plowed the Texas side of State Line, according to District Engineer Will Cheatham. The plow operator "had to make the loop anyway," he said.

Meanwhile, Texarkana, Texas, street crews were also hard at work, focused on making bridges, overpasses and other major arteries into the city safer by plowing and sanding them. Overwhelmed by the continuous snowfall, the city hired local contractors to help. Rather than showing neglect on the part of the Texas side, the viral images show only a difference in the two cities' timing in clearing State Line, Texas-side City Manager Shirley Jaster said.

"It's a moment in time. If they would've looked back later on, they would have seen we'd plowed ours, too.

"I think what happened on State Line is we were a little further behind because we just had our crews working at that time. Since then, we added three additional contractors that we had working to help us, so they hadn't come online at that point," she said.

"It was never a race," Cheatham said about clearing State Line, noting a strong cooperative relationship between the two states' transportation departments in the region. Instead, all parties involved were challenged to prioritize use of limited resources during an event that made driving so hazardous as to be practically impossible.

TxDOT and ARDOT focused on the most-traveled roads in the region, with crews working 12-hour shifts to use sand, salt, brine and plows to make bridges and overpasses safer and state and interstate highways more drivable. Both Texarkanas also did their best to clear main thoroughfares, even as local police departments and other officials urged residents to avoid driving altogether.

Texarkana, Arkansas, City Manager Kenny Haskin on Friday praised city crews' efforts during the crisis, pointing not only to street crews but also to code enforcement and Texarkana Water Utilities personnel who went "above and beyond their job descriptions in a time of need."

"These employees battled the elements to make our city safer and more accessible for those who had to be out and about," he said, adding that at times they even used hair dryers to thaw residents' frozen pipes.

Jaster too said city employees and contractors deserved recognition.

"I'm very, very proud of the work our public works has done. They've been working from 5 a.m. in the morning every day this week, and they're not going to stop. They're going to be there all day long doing what they do. Everybody was doing everything they could to help the roads be passable," she said.

The full circumstances could not be conveyed by the viral images of State Line, but nonetheless many social media users based broad assertions on them alone.

One Twitter post of the video with more than 7,500 likes and 3,300 retweets called Texas "a state that apparently has better things to do than to take winter seriously. Just in case you're wondering how we got here."

"Yikes, such an accurate vision of the enormous failure of Texas to take care of Texas," another Twitter user posted.

"Republicans don't want to spend a dime on the public good. They just want to keep all of the money they make and render government ineffectual, then complain that it is. Without greed and hypocrisy, the @GOP would cease to exist," posted another.

The online controversy could have easily been dispelled had anyone bothered to ask what the images really showed - and did not - Cheatham said.

"If anyone would have contacted us, this whole debacle could have been avoided," he said.


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