Icy roads make Portland commute treacherous; schools closed


PORTLAND — The long holiday weekend stretched to a fourth day for many Oregonians.

Light snow followed by freezing rain turned streets and sidewalks into a skating rink, prompting school closures Monday in Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro and many other Willamette Valley districts. Several colleges and universities, including the Corvallis campus of Oregon State, canceled classes on what would have been the first day back from winter break.

In Portland, busy roads were in decent shape for the morning commute, but those less traveled glistened with a coat of ice. Police and the Oregon Department of Transportation warned motorists to delay their trips if possible.

Downtown pedestrians slid to their destinations when traffic forced them to remain on the treacherous sidewalks. Those who commute by bus or light rail faced delays.

“It's quite crazy out there,” ODOT spokeswoman Kimberly Dinwiddie said. “We have seen numerous spinouts and stalled vehicles as well as some crashes.”

Some workers were spared the scary commute. Officials closed state offices in the Portland area and Hood River; most Portland city workers got the day off.

OHSU Hospital remained open for patients, but urged non-essential employees to stay home. Vancouver, Washington, canceled garbage pickup because of icy neighborhood streets.

The temperature in Portland was right at freezing at the start of the morning commute. Forecasters expected it to gradually rise to the high 30s and melt some of the ice to slush.

Dinwiddie said crews from the Portland metro area to Hood River have applied more than 166,000 gallons of magnesium chloride deicer since Sunday. What they have not used is road salt, which Oregon doesn't apply because of its effect on the infrastructure and the environment.

The state, however, is in the third year of a five-year pilot project to salt Interstate 5 near the California state line and a stretch of U.S. 95 in southeast Oregon near Nevada. The goal is for drivers to travel on roads in similar condition when crossing a state line, and not suddenly speed onto an icy patch.

“Both California and Nevada already use salt,” said Dave Thompson of ODOT. “Before we started using salt on that road you could tell where the state line was. Because you'd run into packed snow — or you'd leave packed snow if you were going the other way.”

Salt hasn't been considered for Portland, which rarely gets snow.

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