Icy conditions ahead. Here's what Austin, TxDOT and CapMetro are doing to prepare.

Philip Jankowski
Austin American-Statesman

With area temperatures hovering around freezing Friday afternoon, local transportation authorities were closely monitoring the temperature of the city's roads and highways.

Any residual heat from the soil underneath roads that could help keep their surface temperature above freezing has dissipated, which means any precipitation in the coming days has a much greater chance of accumulating not only on bridges, but surface-level streets.

It has all contributed to a situation that has city, county and state road crews working overtime to respond to reports of ice on roads across the Austin area.

"Everyone is on call. All hands on deck," said Susanne Harms, spokeswoman for the city of Austin's Transportation Department.

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The Texas Department of Transportation, which is managing ice mitigation and closures for most of the area's highways, has about 500 crew members and contractors working around the clock to respond to icy conditions, according to the agency.

On Friday afternoon, TxDOT had 18 crews responding to current weather conditions in the Austin district, according to spokesman Chris Bishop. Those crews – about 150 employees – were spreading about 300,000 pounds of sand, salt and magnesium chloride on state highways.

"We have people patrolling looking for trouble spots," Bishop said. "They are going out when they hear things from police."

Magnesium chloride is TxDOT's go-to tool for mitigating and preventing ice buildup on roads. The granules of the chemical lower the freezing temperature of water, Bishop said.

“It takes a sheet of ice and turns it into Swiss cheese,” Bishop said.

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The city of Austin's Public Works Department on Friday had crew members taking the temperature of the roads hourly, using thermometers similar to the no-contact infrared devices that have become all too familiar during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city activated emergency operations for Public Works on Wednesday. Since then, crews have been monitoring the city's streets and sidewalks around the clock, Public Works spokeswoman Elizabeth Ferrer said.

The city's go-to compound to use on roadways is dolomite, which is basically crushed limestone. The sandy substance is spread on roads to build traction where there might be ice.

Public Works also is assisting TxDOT with road closures by using some of its trucks to block ramps and bridges. Ferrer said Public Works staff are preparing to remain under emergency operations until Thursday of next week.

Workers treat MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) for ice Friday near Lake Austin Boulevard.

"We are pulling out all the stops," Ferrer said.

Public transportation agency Capital Metro also is de-icing some roads and bridges. Its field staffers are also inspecting bus stations and rail stations. CapMetro is allowing buses to be used as temporary shelters during layovers to keep people out of the frigid cold, the mobility authority said.

The common refrain from city and state officials is to stay off the roads entirely. For those who must travel, check and make sure to monitor social media for TxDOT, the city of Austin, Travis County or any other local government agencies. CapMetro's weather-related detours will be updated on MetroAlerts and

But those feeds will only be as up to date as the information that they have received.

"Staying home is the smartest thing to do," Bishop said.

MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) stood empty Friday after being closed at Lake Austin Boulevard because of icy conditions.