Arkansas highway officials respond to I-40, I-55 traffic nightmare

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - The eastern Arkansas traffic nightmare finally improved Tuesday evening; nearly 24 hours after the situation began.{} But now the mess that left thousands stranded in their cars for hours has many including the state's highest leader asking for an explanation.

The traffic jam that left countless people stranded the jam that required response from the Arkansas National Guard, has hundreds upset with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

"There's not one particular thing that you can put your finger on and say, 'yes, that is the cause of what happened yesterday," said Danny Straessle, spokesperson for AHTD.

Straessle said the traffic on I-40 and I-55 was the result of a multitude of problems that trickled down to produce a historic traffic event.

"We had a great amount of sleet come down in a very, very short amount of time," said Straessle.{} "Pretty soon we had four to six inches of sleet that we were looking at."

The amount of sleet received in the eastern portion of the state was something Straessle said AHTD simply couldn't handle.{} More than 800 crews were dispatched around the state on Sunday, but they were dispatched to handle more than 8,500 miles of state highways and interstates.

Icy conditions were bound to make problems on Interstate 40, a road traveled by nearly 40,000 vehicles daily - with nearly 60% of those vehicles being semis.

"Trucks plus inclement weather do not make a good situation," said Straessle.

Several semis jack-knifed causing initial traffic problems.{} Straessle said many tractor trailers caught in the subsequent mess would turn off their trucks after timing out their ten hour shifts causing more traffic.

Bottlenecks from three major construction zones - one around Forrest City, one through West Memphis and the other in Osceola - restricting traffic to one lane didn't make traffic matters any better.

Straessle said AHTD isn't trying to make excuses for what happened on Tuesday, but rather tried to explain several issues that led up to the mess.{} Governor Mike Beebe said he's heard the explanation but lashed out again at highway officials on Wednesday.

"Some of the events were probably beyond people's control, but some of them weren't," said Beebe.{} "What we need to find out is how they can do a better job next time."

AHTD claims it is compiling a timeline of Tuesday's events to take a closer look at how everything unfolded.{} They're talking to neighboring states in the process as well.