Texan infrastructure turns brittle in frigid temperatures
While I was never a stranger to snow growing up in northern Indiana, snow days and I rarely met. My high school principal grew up in the snowy depths of Minnesota and lived two blocks away from my school; if he could walk there through three feet of snow, then gosh darn it, the rest of us could drive. You can imagine my shock when I enjoyed my first snow day in years when I went to Texas for my freshman year of college.
When classes were first canceled due to ice and snow three years ago, I felt a deep incredulity, a subtle fear, and had a satisfying sense of justice finally fulfilled. When it happened again the next year while I was in Rome, I shook my head in disbelief and probably had another sip of Italian wine. Then, when it happened again just two weeks ago, for the third year in a row, smack dab in the middle of Groundhog celebrations, I’ll admit that my reaction was to laugh at all the Texan drivers who did not own an ice scraper.
But when I tried to walk outside my apartment and nearly broke my neck, I realized why all these Texan drivers kept their tires where they were and let the ice sit on their windshields — Texas doesn’t salt her roads like Indiana does.
I learned early on that when in the snow, you walk slowly, drive slower, and put salt on the sidewalk so the neighbor doesn’t slip and sue. Even then, you don’t drive if the plows haven’t gotten to the main road down the street. In Indiana and other snow-accustomed states, the streets will be prepped with a brine mixture intended to prevent icing in anticipation of a storm, and plows will hit the roads following snowfall. They leave behind a chloride mixture to melt the ice. This is often mixed with sand to provide better traction.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas has a similar process. Roads are prepped, plows are deployed, and magnesium chloride mixtures are sprayed. This mixture is, as the TxDOT website says, “made with natural sea salt and is less corrosive than rock salt and more environmentally friendly than baking soda.”
Texas has to use a less corrosive material than someplace like Indiana because concrete is far more susceptible to corrosion than asphalt. The dark asphalt I grew up driving on would do poorly in the Texas heat and is not as durable as concrete, but it handles the cold and salt much better.
If Texas has a de-icing procedure in place, why was campus an ice-skating rink for three days? Part of the answer is, of course, in the amount of materials. Midwest cities are more condensed and therefore have less pavement and far fewer highways to care for than the Texan metropolis where our campus is tucked away in. According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, the state has over 1,000 snowplows available to work 24/7 to “keep more than 29,000 lane miles of interstate highways, U.S. routes and state roads in Indiana as safe as possible.”
One article in the New York Post from 2021 cites the Texas Department of Transportation as having only 700 snow plows for a state seven-times the size of Indiana with more than four-times the population. Granted, those plows are probably at least twenty-times more frequently needed by Indiana than Texas, but it is no wonder that roads here take so long to clear.
In addition, Midwest college campuses are simply better prepared than Texas campuses are for winter. Bethel University, a small Christian university in Mishawaka, Indiana, owns snow plows for campus use. The Bethel campus is smaller than our own, but we naturally do not have snow plows. It’s probably for the best; I can only too easily imagine Super Dave going mad with power behind the wheel of his very own snow plow.
As we end our third Groundhog in a row celebrated by snow days, the question must be asked if Texas, and her college campuses, will grow their arsenal of snow-fighting equipment. Will Texan drivers begin buying ice scrapers and keeping emergency blankets in the back of their cars, like my family does back home? I suppose it comes down to whether or not, and when, we decide to redefine what a Texan winter can be expected to include.
For now, while it’s not the fault of Texan drivers that the campus was shut down, I can’t help but hold firm to the opinion that Midwestern drivers might just be better behind the wheel. We have to navigate through blizzards and cornfields, what do you expect?