LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - TxDOT has opened one northbound lane on the the east side of Loop 287 in Lufkin, while crews work to clean up the tar which ruined hundreds of tires on Thursday.
After it became apparent the tar would incapacitate vehicles, the Texas Department of Transportation made the decision to close the east loop Thursday morning, causing the inner Lufkin streets to jam with traffic.
According to a TxDOT press release, crews are working to open one southbound lane of east Loop 287.
All the lanes on that portion of the loop had been closed to traffic until this morning.
TxDOT spokeswoman Rhonda Oaks said the problem is directly attributed to Tropical Storm Harvey. When roads were re-paved last week, they did not have a chance to dry properly before the storm hit. That caused the tar to become sticky on Thursday, which TxDOT did not predict would happen.
Oaks said crews are now working to open one southbound lane of traffic on the east loop. Employees from Angelina County's TxDOT maintenance office have been working around the clock since Thursday morning, Oaks said.
"We will continue to work this weekend to open the southbound side of the loop with one lane of traffic, and then we are scheduled for striping on Sunday. By midweek, we should be ready to begin removing the temporary patch placed by TxDOT crews and put a final surface down," Oaks said. "We regret the inconvenience this has caused to the public, but we will do our best to complete the work in a timely manner. It is never easy to close a major thoroughfare such as our loop. Once the decision was made early Thursday morning to close, it took about two hours to complete the tasks and enlist the help needed to complete the closure."
Oaks said that TxDOT employees from Tyler, Nacogdoches, and San Jacinto counties are assisting with the work because about 40 Lufkin District employees were deployed last week and this week to Houston and Beaumont to aid in disaster recovery and cleanup after Hurricane Harvey.
"No one could have foreseen how this event played out," Oaks said. "The new rock and asphalt simply did not have time to set before the heavy rains began. We want the public to know that we are going to make this right and restore the east loop to an improved condition for the traveling public."
Jessica Pebsworth, a spokeswoman for the Lufkin Police Department, said Lone Star Hazmat teams will be set up at the TxDOT Clark Construction designated area near FM 2021 (Davisville Road) at Loop 287 in the old Roadhouse Cafe parking lot. They will be removing tar from people's vehicles from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.
"They have assured us that they are professionals and this is being handled safely and within EPA guidelines for cleanup/removal," Pebsworth said.
According to a Lufkin Police Department Facebook post, Lone Star Hazmat teams can only accept vehicles with heavy contamination, "as in barely drivable" because they have been inundated with vehicles.
"Their mission at this time is to get drivers with the heaviest contamination back on the road," the Facebook post stated. "We are assisting them with this effort and, unfortunately, are having to turn away motorists with minor contamination."
The Facebook post also stated that the Lone Star Hazmat teams crew cannot make individual house calls to other areas.
"They wish they could, but the demand is too great at this time," the Facebook post stated.
In addition, TxDOT is still urging people to this website to start the claim purpose.