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Arlington accused of using state truck to clear ice at Cowboys Stadium

ARLINGTON -- While motorists slipped and slid on icy streets during Super Bowl week, at least one state-owned truck was apparently used to spread sand on a Cowboys Stadium parking lot.

On Monday, Texas Department of Transportation officials said that one of the two vehicles it loaned to Arlington on Feb. 1 and 2 to help clear ice from streets ended up where it wasn't supposed to be. The agency withdrew the truck after discovering that it had been used to sand parking lot 4 on the stadium's east side.

"I don't care if it's the Super Bowl or not. That's not an appropriate use of public resources," Bill Meadows of Fort Worth, a Texas Transportation Commission member, said Monday.

However, Arlington's point man on weather-related issues said he was unaware that a state sand truck may have been used on stadium property.

"I spent the majority of my time in lot 4, and no one from my staff made that request, nor did I ever see a TxDOT truck in that lot," said Keith Melton, Arlington assistant director of public works and transportation.

The incident illustrates that, two weeks after the icy weather, North Texas officials are still sensitive to assertions that they didn't do enough to keep roads passable from Feb. 1 to 4. It was suggested that they focused too much on Super Bowl-related traffic and not enough on clearing roads for residents.

The storm left the Metroplex covered in a compacted layer of ice followed by 3 inches of snow, paralyzing traffic and closing schools for four days. The region remained below freezing for a practically unheard-of 100 hours.

Disaster in the making

Early on Feb. 1, the day the international news media met with the Super Bowl teams, a massive winter storm moved into the Metroplex. By daybreak, the region's roads were coated with hard-packed ice.

Arlington requested help through the region's district disaster coordinator, who is typically summoned to help agencies communicate with one another and use their resources efficiently during an emergency. The city asked for two sand trucks to help improve traction on arterial streets, and the Transportation Department agreed, according to agency spokeswoman Jodi Hodges.

The trucks operated under the direction of Arlington staff for two days with the understanding that once the emergency had passed, the state would be reimbursed for expenses such as travel, fuel, equipment and labor.

"These two trucks were under the direction of the city staff ... to sand only the roadways around the entertainment district. They supplemented the city crews' efforts to clear the roadways," Hodges said. "At the end of the second day, one truck was directed by the city to sand a parking lot. As soon as our TxDOT supervisors were notified of this, TxDOT withdrew its assistance. The TxDOT truck logos were visible at all times during their assistance to the city."

The sand in question was city-owned, and not part of the Transportation Department's cold-weather stockpile, Hodges added.

Meadows, from the Transportation Commission, was in an Arlington command center on Feb. 1, monitoring how the roads were holding up. He remembered hearing officials from Arlington and other cities call for the Transportation Department's help in clearing roads.

The agency had called in 600 employees -- including dozens from other parts of the state -- to operate sand trucks, snowplows and other equipment.

"The assumption I was under was, the city of Arlington was overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster and needed help, and we agreed to help," Meadows said. "But nobody said anything to me about a private parking lot."

At-large Arlington City Councilman Gene Patrick said Monday that he was not aware of the incident but would not have supported using the state's sand trucks for stadium parking lots over public streets.

"That is not exactly what a public agency should be doing," Patrick said. "There's a big difference between Collins Street and a parking lot. That is an inappropriate use of public money."

Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he also was not aware of the situation.

"I know we had sand trucks all over the city. I don't think they should have done the Cowboys parking lot," Cluck said. "If that is true, I'm glad they called them back."

Staff writer Susan Schrock contributed to this report.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796