An ice-covered surface

Transportation officials were asking motorists to avoid all but essential travel Wednesday morning as freezing rain glazed Connecticut roads in black ice and accidents caused shutdowns on several major highways. 

The National Weather Service was forecasting dangerous travel conditions and slippery roads in Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts until noon Wednesday. Icy conditions were also reported in the tri-state area.

By mid-morning, the Connecticut State Police Twitter account was reporting highway shutdowns driven by accidents. Interstate 84 West in East Hartford was closed, Route 15 North before the Charter Oak Bridge was shutdown due to a jackknifed tractor trailer truck. Another truck had rolled over on I-91 South near Middletown, closing the right lane.

“Troopers are responding to multiple accidents as ice covers many roadways,” the state police wrote. “PLEASE reduce your speed as you commute to work this morning!”

The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, was asking residents to avoid travel, if possible.

“Motorists are urged to stay off the roads if they can,” the DOT’s official Twitter account posted. “Despite crews being activated at midnight, pre-treatment doesn’t stick to dry roads & rain washes it away, making freezing rain extremely dangerous. Please use extreme caution in icy conditions.”

The conditions also led to school delays and closures throughout the state. Other areas were caught off guard and sent buses out only to experience delays as a result of the conditions. In an email to parents, West Hartford Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow apologized, saying the town had not anticipated the quick shift from rain to ice.

“If we had known we obviously would have delayed our opening. The Town has mobilized treatment trucks and continues to assist where needed, as we are doing our best to getting everyone to school safely,” Morrow wrote.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said that schools there had been delayed by two hours. In a tweet, Stewart reported that roads had improved in the city around 10 a.m. She said it had been a busy morning for emergency responders. 

“In 90 minutes we had 68 [motor vehicle] accident calls for first shift which is 12 officers … managed through,” Stewart wrote. “Thank you for patience with us as we prioritized injuries over fender benders.”

The conditions of the state highways for much of the morning had many residents questioning preparations for the weather, which had been previously forecast. The Transportation Department said it had been fielding those questions and said a combination of circumstances made it difficult to prepare the roads.

“Freezing rain is not like snow and ice… this event was a Perfect Storm: too cold yesterday to lay down liquid pre-treatment & too windy ahead of the weather to pre-treat with hard salt,” the DOT said in a tweet. “We’re out there across [Connecticut]. When you see us, give us room to work.”

Garrett Eucalitto, deputy commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said there were no good options to pretreat the roads. Connecticut uses a brine solution that it sprays down or rock salt, but the weather conditions didn’t make either good, he said. 

“It’s kind of the Goldilocks zone of ineffective pretreatments right now,” Eucalitto said. 

He said the pavement temperature was too cold for the brine solution and the roads were too dry before the freezing rain happened to lay down the rock salt. He said they did activate all crews at midnight and staged them at highway ramps,  and as soon as it started raining they spread rock salt.

COVID related staffing shortages did not factor into the agency’s response Wednesday, he said.