Bad road conditions in Anchorage wreck cars and trucks

Last week, as a heavy blanket of snow fell over Anchorage, daycare owner Crystal Culp got a call from her daughter. She had slipped into a snow bank and had to be picked up.

Culp climbed into his trusty GMC Yukon and slowly began his descent from his Anchorage hillside home.

She quickly realized that the roads she was used to driving in the Alaskan winter had turned into something different: a quivering moonscape of jagged ruts. Somewhere around C Street and Dimond Boulevard the road started to remind her of a roller coaster.

“When he’s driving a truck up the grade – bump, bump, bump,” she said. “It was crazy.”

She began to worry about her own vehicle. Culp reached his daughter, whose car was scratched but intact, cushioned by a wall of snow.

When he got home, Culp’s Jeep was in bad shape. Her car has suspension and tire pressure damage. The shock was displaced.

She still drives it. “It’s my only source of transportation,” she said.

[In an informal deal, Anchorage mayor sent equipment to clear rutted state roads, leaving many neighborhoods unplowed]

Culp is among the many Anchorage drivers who say their vehicles have been severely damaged in the deplorable road conditions this past week. More than 70 people responded to a Daily News question to readers about whether their vehicles had been damaged on the roads. Readers describe all kinds of trouble: flat tires, broken windows, pieces of bumpers left on the roads.

Poor road conditions contributed to hundreds of car breakdown reports. The Anchorage Police Department said it responded to 460 such calls between last Thursday, when the first snowstorm hit, and Wednesday afternoon. Police responded to an additional 94 non-injury crashes and 24 injury crashes

Transportation officials agree that it wasn’t your imagination: The roads really were unusually bad, especially last Saturday and Sunday after the initial snowstorm. The worst reported conditions are on state and maintained roads such as C Street, Dimond, A Street and Benson and Northern Lights avenues.

The first foot-plus of snow has fallen as temperatures hover around freezing, said Justin Shelby, regional operations director for the Alaska Department of Transportation. That allowed the snow to form into icy ruts as cars drove over it, he said. Once an uneven, icy surface forms, a grader is needed to scrape it off, Shelby said. The state owns mostly high-speed plows and there aren’t many graders in Anchorage, he said, but the township does.

Shelby said the amount of snowfall the city received meant it took longer for state plows to get there and some of the snow hardened into rock-hard, damaging ice formations that required profiling.

Mayor Dave Bronson said road conditions on state roads were so bad that he ordered city equipment to be diverted to help clear them. Although the decision delayed plowing in the neighborhood, Bronson said state roads must be safe for emergency vehicles.

Auto repair shops say they are busy, but not necessarily busier than usual this time of year.

Keith Seals said he was trudging along Tudor Road when his window blew out.

“I hit a bump in the road in front of Taco Bell causing my entire left passenger window to shatter,” he wrote. “It almost made me crack up as I looked around thinking and wondering what was really going on.”

Ziona Brownlow said she was dropping friends off at the airport when her set of four tires “turned into a trio”.

“My tire popped on one of the Northern Lights’ icebergs, which bounced off my Jeep and signaled the engine to start,” she wrote. Her suspension “didn’t realize it was going to be off-road on the main roads this season.”

The heavily congested Northern Lights Boulevard also took out Christine Williams’ husband’s tire. He was near East Anchorage High School when he lost a tire, she wrote. The lug nuts on their Chevrolet Suburban “broke in half,” she said.

For days they were without a working car, without buses, she said.

It wasn’t the road that damaged Dale McLeary-Nelson’s Ford F250 truck; it was a snowy tree branch. McLeary-Nelson said she was hopping in the far right lane of 36th Avenue, close to other cars due to huge snowbanks on the side and median, when out of nowhere a tree branch punched a “golf ball-sized hole” in plastic on the passenger side mirror and broke the glass.

A replacement, she said, would cost at least $300.

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