Ice closes outside NB, SB lanes of I-95 at Florida-Georgia border

Georgia governor declares emergency in 28 counties due to winter storm

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The outside northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 95 at the Georgia-Florida line have been closed due to ice on the road, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Wednesday night.

FDOT said crews were working to remove the ice from the roadway, and drivers are urged to use caution.

Law enforcement officials reported Wednesday evening that bridges throughout Pierce County, Georgia, were beginning to freeze, saying bridge closures are likely. 

Columbia County Emergency Management said the following roads in Columbia County will be closed Wednesday night and will reopen when safe to travel on Thursday:

  • State Road 6 at the Suwannee River
  • County Road 246 (Lassie Black) at the U.S. 41 end
  • Price Creek Road at the Union County line will be manned. 

The following bridges were affected Wednesday by the weather:

  • The bridge on Haines Avenue in Waycross reopened after being closed due to ice. The Plant Avenue Bridge has also reopened.
  • Ice confirmed on Jekyll Island Causeway bridge.
  • All bridges in Camden County are open, but are icy, so please use caution if driving.
  • All bridges in Pierce County have reopened.
  • The Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah remains closed.
  • There are no reports of any ice on bridges in Jacksonville

A 50-mile stretch of Interstate 10 was closed early Wednesday between Tallahassee and Live Oak, because of icy conditions, the Florida Highway Patrol said. By 1 p.m., westbound lanes reopened except for one patch in Madison County. By 3 p.m. all lanes in both directions were open again. 

All lanes of I-75 were closed in Hamilton County near U.S. 129 so crews could remove ice from the roadway. 

Wet roads combined with below-freezing temperatures overnight have the potential to cause black ice throughout Camden County, officials said. This, coupled with the increasing number of downed power lines, lead to an unsafe situation for all drivers. All Camden County residents are urged to stay off of the roads.

Police have personnel standing by at the U.S. 41 overpass and will update everyone if conditions become icy and the overpass closes.

After night fell over the city of Waycross, not too many people dared to venture out into the cold.

"Man, it's slippery. It's icy," said Waycross resident Etoya Dennard, who nearly fell while crossing the street Wednesday evening.

As temperatures dropped in Southeastern Georgia, road surfaces started to freeze over in some areas.

Snow and slush could be seen on the road as News4Jax followed a Ware County deputy over the Haines Bridge. Eventually, News4Jax ran into James Yawn, a pizza delivery driver who was in the middle of one of his deliveries.

Yawn said the slick road conditions were forcing him to use extra precautions while delivering pizza, including making sure the glare on the road is just water, and not black ice.

"Stopping a little bit sooner than you normally would on the street," Yawn added.

Since the frigid temperatures were keeping many indoors, Yawn found himself busier than usual. 

“We’re getting runs, nearly two or three at a time, so were going out back and forth," he said. "By the time I get back to the store, there’s two or three more runs to go. So yes, we’ve been pretty busy.”

It was so cold in Waycross Wednesday night that the snow that fell earlier in the day will remain overnight.

The National Weather Service has issued a hard freeze warning across the area, which will be in effect until 11 a.m. Thursday.

According to NWS, there is the potential for black ice overnight due to refreezing of any partially melted snow or ice across southeast Georgia and I-10 corridor well west of Jacksonville in Northeast Florida.

Georgia treats roads

Georgia Department of Transportation crews have treated all interstates in Southeast Georgia and nearly all of the state routes in Chatham and Glynn counties with brine solution. Brine was also spread on routes leading to St. Simons and Jekyll Islands. Gravel and salt were also applied to bridges throughout the region.

Georgia DOT has deployed equipment from throughout the state to assist Coastal Georgia with this weather event.

Coastal Georgia forces also continue to respond to this event by spreading gravel and salt along affected routes. Crews are prepared to reapply brine to interstates, major routes and bridges tonight.

During hazardous winter weather conditions, Georgia DOT advises motorists to:

  • Call 5-1-1 to report icy conditions on interstates and state routes;
  • If possible, postpone travel until daylight hours when road conditions such as black ice are more visible;
  • Pay attention to Georgia DOT trucks spreading materials and, stay back a safe distance;
  • Do not pass a Georgia DOT dump truck spreading the salt/gravel mixture, as gravel may kick up and could break car windshields — follow at least 100 feet behind department vehicles;
  • Be aware of Georgia DOT and other emergency crews working to clear snow, ice, debris and potential downed trees or power lines from interstates and state routes;
  • SLOW DOWN at least half your normal speed and use a low gear as you drive;
  • Treat a non-working traffic signal as a four-way stop;
  • Beware of icy patches (especially on bridges) and watch for fallen trees or power lines

Dangerous drive

Chances of freezing rain and snow in this week's forecast could impact roads across Northeast Florida.

Some Jacksonville bridges could close, because ice building up on the bridge could prove dangerous for drivers.

The higher the elevation, like the Dames Point Bridge, which is about 17 stories, the higher the chance the bridge could close. Other bridges vulnerable to icing include the Buckman, Hart and Mathews.

Ben McCorkel, a driving instructor for the Northeast Florida Safety Council and a retired Nassau County sheriff’s deputy and state trooper, offered some advice if drivers find themselves on icy roads.

“The bridges will definitely ice faster than the road. The reason being is you have a freezing temperature on top and underneath,” McCorkel explained. “Once people get this ice and they start sliding, what they want to do is slam on the brakes. That’s not a good idea. You want to reduce your speed, set your foot up off the gas, do not apply the braking.”

RELATED: City, county, state respond to winter storm | School closings | SE Georgia emergency | BLOG: Storm impact | AAA tips to preserve car battery

Braking could cause you to spin out or even flip, McCorkel said.

“Your rear is going to start coming to the left. Now you want to steer slightly to the left. I’m sure these tires are going to the left. What that is going to do is start to straighten up,” he explained.

It’s important to prevent this McCorkel said by making sure a vehicle's tires have enough air pressure and tread, driving 10 to 15 mph below the speed limit, keeping a safe distance away from other vehicles -- at least 2 seconds worth -- and avoiding driving unless it's absolutely necessary.

“One of the biggest problems is the experience,” he said. “We have a lot of inexperienced drivers out there.”

Florida Department of Transportation representatives said the department doesn't have any plans to prepare the roads for the upcoming weather right now, but law enforcement will monitor the road conditions and let FDOT know if any closures or measures need to be taken. 

FDOT can salt or sand the roads, but transportation officials said they rarely need to do that.

They also have cameras on the bridges that law enforcement monitor as well. 

Whether bridges remain open or not, many drivers will face the challenge of navigating during winter weather -- a challenge most in Florida aren't accustomed to.

“I would be cautious. They’re not used to that kind of weather,” said Jacksonville resident Lovee Agnihorti, who moved to town in 2002. “I would love it (to snow). I think people would like it. That would be a nice change.”

Agnihorti said that although he feels comfortable driving during winter weather, he hopes other drivers take precautions before hitting freezing roads. 

Safety tips while driving on icy roadways

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and its division of the Florida Highway Patrol provided the following safe driving tips: 

  • Stay put. Avoid driving, if at all possible. The safest place to be is off the roads.
  • Slow down. When roads are icy, vehicles don’t have the traction required to stop quickly.
  • Stay alert. When the temperature is near freezing, the roadway may look wet when in fact ice is forming.
  • Check tire inflation often. As temperatures drop, so can your tire pressure. Low tire pressure does not give tires better traction in icy conditions, it only makes them more vulnerable to damage.
  • Remember that bridges and overpasses are more prone to freezing in these types of conditions and will ice over first. Proceed with caution when driving in these areas.
  • Do not attempt to pass slower vehicles.
  • Leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Gently apply brakes and accelerate at a slow speed.
  • Be patient and courteous. Driving in adverse weather conditions can be stressful.
  • Florida does not allow tire chains. Section 316.299, Florida Statutes, states that only tires with rubber studs designed to improve traction are permitted on public roadways.

The FHP will be monitoring roadways and bridges in 12-hour shifts to help ensure they are safe for travel. If motorists observe any roadway problems or need assistance, they should  dial *FHP(347).  

Florida prepares

Gov. Rick Scott directed the following state actions in preparation for the severe weather: 

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)

  • FDOT crews will conduct winter weather operations by spraying state roads and bridges later tonight and into the early hours of Wednesday ahead of freezing temperatures.

  • Spraying will consist of a saline solution that is designed to lower the freezing temperature of the precipitation falling on the bridge surfaces.

  • Motorists may notice an increased number of FDOT vehicles on state routes as FDOT maintenance and operations staff monitor winter weather conditions on bridges and roadways.

Florida Highway Patrol (FHP)

  • FHP troops A (Pensacola), B (Gainesville), G (Jacksonville) and H (Tallahassee) will be on 12-hour shifts monitoring any impacted roadways in coordination with FDOT.
  • FHP Quick Reaction Force teams from other areas in the state also remain on standby if additional highway safety needs arise in winter storm-impacted areas.
  • Motorists should dial *FHP (347) from their mobile phone if they are on the road and need assistance.

About the Authors: