The combination of ice, jackknifed trucks and minor traffic accidents have made Interstate 55 in Arkansas nearly impassable for about 36 hours, with crews unable to reach the problem areas.
The Arkansas National Guard has been called in to help the Arkansas State Police with road assessments along the I-55 corridor from West Memphis to the state’s northern border.
The National Guard has equipment that most public safety folks don’t and will be able to go off road or on the median if necessary, said Maj. Matt Snead, public affairs officer.
However, the guard has not been asked to evacuate stranded motorists, Snead said.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe is coordinating efforts to assist motorist stranded on Interstates 40 and 55, including guard teams who will check on motorists to ensure that there are no health emergencies.
And the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will help transport fuel to vehicles that run out of gas.
Officials say anyone headed into Arkansas should wait a few hours to give crews time to clear the interstate.
“That is definitely the worst location in the state of Arkansas, that’s I-55 between West Memphis and Blytheville,” said Randy Ort, public information officer with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.
The problem is that with traffic either stopped or moving slowing, crews can’t get to the wrecks.
Once some of the stalled vehicles are out of the way, the gridlock will start to improve, he said.
“I don’t want to compare it to what’s happened in Atlanta because I don’t know what that situation was,” Ort said. “But this is a situation where once traffic stops it is extremely difficult to move again.”
He advises travelers who can, to delay their departure for a few hours.
“If they are in that part of the state or headed to that part of the state, you can either wait someplace nice and warm in a restaurant or you can wait in your vehicle,” Ort said.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas State Police is attempting to move motorists who ask for help.
“Anyone who has asked to be removed, we’ve assisted them in moving. I don’t have a number. I don’t think it’s been that many people," said Bill Sadler, state police public information officer.