12/11/2019 11:01:00 AM Striving to keep roads safe
Growing up in Windom, I know this part of the state faces some of the worst winter weather Mother Nature has to offer. Heavy snowfall rates, extreme cold temperatures and blizzard winds are common and can produce the biggest challenge on the road: compacted snow and ice. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is responsible for clearing nearly 12,000 centerline miles of interstate, U.S. and Minnesota highways. With more than 1,800 full- and part-time operators and 800 snowplows, we are ready at all hours to keep traffic moving safely. Each winter event is unique. That's why our agency has invested in time, training and technology to help effectively manage our response to each storm. Snowplows are equipped with a Maintenance Decision Support System that gathers real-time data about road and weather conditions from automated sensors and feedback from our drivers. Our central MDSS server uses that information, along with the weather forecast, to recommend a plan of action for snowplow routes, whether that's scraping snow or applying materials. Plows scrape snow using three different blades located on the front, wing and underbody. Additional tools like tow plows, icebreakers, motor graders and snow blowers are located statewide and can be added to our winter response at any time. Road salt, specifically sodium chloride, has traditionally been the "go to" material to help return pavement to good winter driving conditions as quickly as possible. But there are downsides to using salt. Chlorides are corrosive to vehicles, roads and bridges and can negatively affect aquatic life in our lakes and rivers. For these reasons, MnDOT works hard to ensure that the right material is used at the right time, in the right amount at the right location. MnDOT has been applying salt brine, a blend of fresh water and road salt, to state highways for several years. The liquid is often used to pre-treat roads prone to frost. Brine can also be added to rock salt to create a thicker slurry to help keep the material on the road. Crews at our 150 truck stations across the state are continuously exploring different products and combinations of liquids (like potassium acetate and calcium chloride) to find even better ways to respond to winter. MnDOT actively balances the need to clear roads quickly and be stewards of the environment. We are always exploring ways to reduce salt use, while maintaining a safe transportation system. Blowing snow presents a challenge for all of us in Southwest Minnesota by limiting visibility and creating "blow ice" or drifts on the road. MnDOT's snow fence program helps reduce this impact. We work with farmers across the state to install seasonal snow fences, like standing corn rows and hay bales, or more permanent solutions, including living and structural snow fences. These barriers collect snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a roadway. The effectiveness of these installations can be seen on the north side of new Highway 60 east of Windom. We really appreciate these partnerships and are always looking for more! Despite our best efforts, we can't do it alone; drivers also have a role to play in safe winter travel. You can help by slowing down, avoiding distractions behind the wheel and keeping a safe distance between yourself and other vehicles. This is especially important when driving near snowplows. Remember, our operators need to go slow to effectively improve road conditions and often are driving in near whiteout conditions. Please be patient. Stay back to stay alive. Jed Falgren, a Windom native, is the acting state maintenance engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.