UI students return to chilly temps, slippery roads

UI students return to chilly temps, slippery roads

URBANA — As the first day of classes goes, today's forecast at the University of Illinois wasn't the most hospitable on record: 3 degrees at 9 a.m., with a -14 windchill.

Not to mention the slippery drive back to campus for students Monday after a lengthy winter break and a 3-inch snowfall.

Students headed back to the UI and other downstate schools hit the roads Sunday night and Monday, and many found themselves sitting in traffic — or sliding off the highway.

"Most of our accidents were U of I students," though most weren't serious, said Trooper Kurt Quick of Illinois State Police District 21 in Ashkum.

Accidents stopped traffic from time to time, with one frustrated UI student posting on Reddit shortly before noon Monday, "Anyone else stuck on 57 right now?"

A fatal crash that killed a Savoy driver about 10:15 a.m. Monday south of Rantoul stopped traffic in both lanes of I-57 for an extended period, according to Trooper Tracy Lillard, public information officer for Illinois State Police District 10 in Pesotum.

"I had multiple (callers) contact me about why they were stuck in traffic," she said.

And both lanes were shut down for about a half-hour after 13 cars slid off the road along a mile-and-a-half stretch of I-57 north of Manteno about 1 p.m., Quick said.

"One of them was a jackknifed semi," he said.

UI graduate student Annalisa Roncone got on the road about noon Monday from her home near the Illinois-Wisconsin border, nervously monitoring weather and road-condition reports. After hearing about poor conditions on I-57, where blowing and drifting snow is often a problem, she turned back after just 20 minutes and took a bus instead.

"As I was making my way to 57, I was talking to my parents, and we just decided that it wasn't worth the risk of potentially an accident or some sort of delay," she said, adding that her car is only rear-wheel drive.

The buses to Champaign from O'Hare Airport were full, so her dad drove her to Woodfield Mall to catch a 4 p.m. bus.

"It is packed. There may be one seat left," Roncone said about 5:45 p.m., as the bus merged onto a slow-moving I-57. "We're moving, but not at a high rate of speed." She was due to arrive in Champaign at 7:30 p.m., about 12 hours before her first 8 a.m. class.

"I'll go back for my car later this week, once the roads are clear," she said.

Quick said the worst conditions were about 5 a.m. Monday, just as traffic along the interstate started picking up for the morning.

"We started getting a lot of slide-offs and a lot of property-damage accidents," he said.

Road conditions were still patchy Monday afternoon, with some dry stretches but others covered with snow or ice, Lillard said.

"It might be dry for 3 miles, then all of a sudden ... it turns into a sheet of ice, and people are going too fast, and they lose it," she said.

Typically, police see heavy southbound traffic on Sunday nights from the Chicago area as students return to the UI, Eastern Illinois or Southern Illinois, and the Martin Luther King Day holiday pushed that to Monday this week, Lillard said.

State police often do speed details on Friday afternoons on northbound I-57, when students are headed to Chicago for the weekend, and on Sunday nights on southbound I-57 as they return, Lillard said.

During a recent check on a Sunday night in November, 26 of the 29 tickets issued went to college students, she said.

"That means a lot of the issue is speed, and that can contribute to these crashes, too," she said. "Add that to snowy weather and bad road conditions, and it's a mess."

Quick said he ticketed one UI student for reckless driving near Kankakee on Sunday, before the storm. His speed? 112 mph.