LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Lufkin Police Department had to shut down Loop 287 from the U.S. Highway 59 South intersection to the U.S. 59 North intersection Thursday morning because of a situation where asphalt from a construction zone is sticking to vehicles' tires.
Many people have pulled over to the side of the road. Others pulled into the Target parking lot to check out the damage to their vehicles.
"There will be absolutely no access to east Loop 287," said Jessica Pebsworth, a spokeswoman for the Lufkin Police Department, in a press release Thursday morning. "This is due to a tar/gravel issue created from road construction underway by a contract crew with TxDOT."
Pebsworth said there is no time frame for when that section of the Lufkin loop will be re-opened.
"Our officers need to be able to get to stranded motorists who have immediate needs for assistance, but our emergency and non-emergency lines are being inundated with complain calls," Pebsworth said. "If you are stranded. call our non-emergency line at (936) 633-0356."
The tar has been spread from passing vehicles from North Timberland Drive to South First Street, Pebsworth said.
"Use caution in these areas, or avoid them if at all possible," Pebsworth said.
Richard Lenius, a spokesperson for Lone Star Hazmat Teams, which has a response center in Tyler, said that they have a crew in Lufkin with equipment to remove asphalt from people's vehicle's. As of right now, the crew is planning to move its operation into an empty parking lot next to Chili's in the 4100 block of South Medford Drive.
"Just look for the big blue truck with emergency lights," Lenius said.
Lenius said the Lone Star Hazmat teams for as long as takes to get people's vehicles as clean as possible. He added that there will be no charge to people bringing vehicles in to get the asphalt cleaned off of them because Clark Construction, the contractor hired by the Texas Department of Transportation to do the work on east Loop 287, is paying for it.
Alyssa Patrick, a Houston resident who evacuated because of Harvey, said they were coming back from Hot Springs, Arkansas, when they encountered the tar on Loop 287.
"Our home is flooded, but we're going back to check on it to see If the water went down or anything, to see if we can get anything out of it and then to see if we can get to the nearest FEMA hotel to stay there until everything dies down," Patrick said. "It's like one bad thing after another. It's just bad. It's just really bad. First your home is flooded and then now you going through this. It's just bad."
When East Texas News spoke to Patrick, she was trying to use a screwdriver to scrape the tar off of her car's tires.
"I saw it on Youtube. Nobody's saying what to do, and Youtube's saying do what you can to get it off the tires to get home, so don't' know," Patrick said. "I don't think it's going to work. Trying to keep it from getting on the brakes, so it doesn't start more problems."
Sam King, a Mont Belvieu resident who evacuated as a result of Harvey, said they had turned on to Loop 287 from U.S. 59 and were on their way home to check things out when they ran across the tar.
"It's all over 287," King said from the parking lot of Lufkin's Target store. "Fresh tar and everything, and we got to the point where we couldn't hardly move. It's so think it's knocked the balance off the tires, so we didn't have any choice to come on in here."
King and his family had left on vacation before Harvey hit. He added they have been trying to get home since Monday.
One Lufkin resident described the situation as "a crisis." Mary Johnson said they hit the tar as soon as they turned on to Loop 287 from U.S. 59.
"People were pulling over to the side," Johnson said. "People were sliding all over. It's just like a disaster from all this. Now, people are coming to Target because their vehicle is incapable to drive. We're all trying to figure out who to call. Is there help out there to help us get to where we need to go? Because our vehicles are not driveable now."
The loop closure will also affect Lufkin ISD. LISD officials sent a call-out message to parents Thursday.
"There is no access to east Loop 287," the call-out message stated. "With that being said, expect delays from our buses that are being re-routed. Bus riders at the primary and elementary campuses will be released 15 minutes early to get students home in a timely manner. For Lufkin High School, our LISD Police Department is partnering with the Lufkin Police Department to direct traffic."
The Texas Department of Transportation issued an alert Thursday morning that said motorists should avoid the the east side of SL 287, or Medford Drive.
Rhonda Oaks, a spokeswoman for TxDOT, said rock on that section of Loop 287 became loose from the roadway because of excessive rainfall from in the past few days from Hurricane Harvey.
"TxDOT will be removing the asphalt application placed last week," a TxDOT press release stated. "Motorists are advised to avoid the area, but some vehicles may have suffered damages that may have resulted from the loose rock or tar, customers should contact the Texas Department of Transportation online at at http://www.txdot.gov/contact-us/form.html to file damage claims."
Motorists should use alternate routes on the west side of the loop or through Business 59/Timberland Drive. Those wanting to travel further south on U.S. 69 South should take Business 59 and turn on to Denman Avenue to reach U.S. 69 South, Atkinson Drive to reach State Highway 103, Chestnut Drive to reach FM 58, and Lufkin Avenue to reach Lufkin High School.
The press release stated that SL 287 East will be re-opened once the work is completed.
"Motorists are advised to obey all traffic control devices and do not drive around barriers," the TxDOT press release stated.
In response to a question asking if there is a way people can file a claim for windshield damage caused by the loose gravel on SL 287, Oaks said earlier Thursday, "Yes, there is a way to file a complaint/claim through TxDOT and the contractor. They need to call (936) 564-7782 or the TxDOT district office at (936) 634-4433."
"We ask that citizens not call our emergency and non-emergency lines to complain because they are tying up our lines and slowing down the process of getting help to people who truly need it," Pebsworth said. "TxDOT is directing citizens with damaged vehicles to contact Clark Construction at (210) 661-6785 to start the claim process. Our administration is meeting with TxDOT officials shortly to determine a more effective long-term plan."