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Road crews fight a losing battle against a layer of ice

The sand supply for area roads is seen Monday at the Kandiyohi County Highway Department Maintenance facility in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR –– With bitter cold temperatures expected to continue for at least another day or two, highway maintenance crews are fighting a losing battle against a thick coat of ice that blankets many roads in west central Minnesota.

“It’s so cold, nothing is working,” said Denny Marty, maintenance supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8 office in Willmar.

It’s too cold for liquid calcium chloride to work and the sand that’s applied in high-speed areas is blown off the road in a matter of minutes and ends up in the ditch, said Marty.

Crews have been trying to “scrape and scratch” away at the ice, he said, and sand that’s applied at intersections and low-speed areas does provide some grit on the roads to give vehicles traction.

Marty said roads in west central Minnesota range from bare to completely ice-covered. Some “don’t even have a wheel track,” he said.

On Friday night, a MnDOT tandem truck, which was trying to salt and sand icy roads at the scene of an accident on U.S. Highway 212 between Montevideo and Granite Falls went into the ditch and rolled. The truck was seriously damaged but the driver was not injured, said Marty.

In Kandiyohi County, nearly all the roads are still covered in ice since the Friday rain and Saturday’s subzero temperatures, said Dave Fritz, Kandiyohi County highway maintenance supervisor.

Despite putting nearly 60 truckloads of sand on roads, Fritz said it’s been impossible to melt any of the ice off the roads and there are precious few stretches of bare roads.

“We’re kind of behind the eight-ball,” he said.

Both Fritz and Marty said drivers need to slow down and drive to the conditions of the road.

“People need to stay off the cruise control and stay off the cell phone,” said Marty.

The only hope roads crews have at this point is a change in the temperature.

“We’re on our knees praying for warmer weather,” said Marty.

That’s expected to start on Wednesday when the temperature may nudge above zero. Cleanup will hit full force on Thursday when the temperature could get in the teens above zero, and continue through the weekend when the area could get a taste of an early spring thaw with temperatures in the 30s.

Marty and Fritz said crews will be out in force then, applying chemical and sand in an attempt to remove ice from the roads.

Until then, Marty’s advice for drivers is: “Don’t let down your guard. Be prepared for anything.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
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