Interstate 90 was awash in vehicle crashes Tuesday morning, as the first snowy workday of the season left commuters stuck in traffic with multiple wrecks playing out along the slick highway.
By 9:30 a.m., traffic was flowing through the area as normal, and snowfall had tapered off, although some roadways remained slick.
"Those first couple of snow days are usually the worst of the year," Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Tony Beehler said, speaking later Tuesday. "It takes a couple of snow days for people to wake up and remember what it's like driving on icy roads."
He added, "That was a wild three hours."
Rollovers, jackknifed semi trucks and multiple-vehicle crashes were reported in both directions on I-90 throughout the morning commute, from the Dick Johnston Bridge west to the Zoo Drive exit. In addition to dozens of two-vehicle crashes, there were multiple jackknifed semi trucks on the road, and several crashes involving three to four vehicles.
Beehler noted, however, there were no serious injuries reported in the melee.
Around 7 a.m., a two-car crash precipitated another three crashes — including a fire truck and an ambulance — within a half-mile stretch of the interstate's westbound lanes between the King Avenue and Zoo Drive exits.
Two vehicles had been slowing down for the initial crash, MHP Trooper Darvin Mees said, but at two different speeds, causing one to slide into the other.
"Then we had a fire truck come up and slid into the pickup involved in that first rear-end crash," Mees said. "A short time later, within a minute or so, another vehicle was trying to pull to the left of the ambulance ... and the ambulance slid into it."
Everyone involved in the crashes was wearing a seat belt, he said, and none of them were injured.
"The worst part of everything was the concrete deck bridges. The concrete freezes faster than the asphalt does," Beehler said. He listed off nine crashes — that he was aware of, at the King Avenue overpass, Yellowstone River Bridge and the Dick Johnston bridge.
By about 7:30 a.m., westbound traffic had ground to a standstill near the South 27th Street exit. Another crash had blocked eastbound traffic at the King Avenue exit as of just before 9 a.m., according to Montana Highway Patrol dispatch.
Temperatures in the area were expected to remain below freezing for most of the day, according to the National Weather Service office in Billings. But Beehler said he expected the evening commute would be less treacherous for interstate drivers.
"I think a lot of that's burned off, unless it snows or rains this afternoon," he said.