MARSHALL - As bad as the weather and roads got in and around Marshall on Monday night, road conditions to the north and east were even worse, surpassing hazardous stage, which explains why U.S. Highway 59 was not closed to traffic that night.
Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 Public Affairs Coordinator TJ Melcher said the closure of Minnesota Highway 19, east out of Marshall, was due to some heavy drifting, coupled with stranded vehicles. Highway 59, meanwhile, had very little drifting and no stalled vehicles.
"Highway 19 needed to be closed because there was a bad stretch from Vesta and east into Redwood Falls," Melcher said. "That all needed to be closed. There's no good spot to close it, so we do it at the biggest population center, which is Marshall."
Highway 19 - from Redwood Falls to Gaylord, and from Marshall to Redwood Falls - reopened early Tuesday. Other area highways that closed were Minnesota Highway 67 from U.S. Highway 75 near Canby to Granite Falls, U.S. Highway 212 from Granite Falls to Hector, Minnesota Highway 23 from Willmar to Granite Falls, and Minnesota Highway 19, west out of Marshall. The closure of that road, however, said Melcher, was a result of a miscommunication with the posting of the closure on the 511mn.org site.
The site listed 19 west of Marshall as closed, along with 19 east, but in reality, 19 west wasn't closed, and the Non-Interstate Road Closure Operations (NIRCO) lights were not activated.
"The biggest problem areas were around Granite Falls, Olivia, Redwood Falls, Clara City, Montevideo," said Melcher. "As you got closer to Marshall and farther south it wasn't quite as bad."
Melcher said Highway 59, which runs north and south, didn't have the issues many highways were faced with Monday night and into Tuesday.
"Across the region, the two biggest factors for closures were, number 1 the visibility and number 2 the ice and drifting. The overall condition of the road surface (on Highway 59) was good, without any ice or drifting, and even though visibility was limited, there was not a disproportionate amount of stalled vehicles like there were in other portions of our district," he said.
Melcher said another part of the evaluation process takes into account the forecast along with the current conditions, and winds in the area, he said, were forecasted to decrease through nightfall.
The periods of limited visibility on Highway 59 were assessed to be intermittent, which, along with the road conditions, would not require an extended closure.
Melcher said it's rare that MnDOT will perform a "blanket closure," when it shuts down all highways and prefers to close roads on a base-by-case basis.
"MnDOT prefers not to close roads en masse, rather taking each road individually and allowing motorists to exercise their best judgment on the necessity of travel," he said. "The Non-Interstate Road Closure Operations lights and gates are a tool to help warn motorists that travel on that stretch of roadway can be hazardous. Ultimately, motorists should always use caution when traveling, especially during inclement weather. There isn't a specific metric that says if this and this and this happen, we'll close them. All highways are individual and independent of each other."