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Published March 20 2011

Ask your government: Who decides when roads close due to weather?

Dear Teri,

When it comes to blizzards, is there any criteria used to determine when to close a road? With so many getting stuck on the road this last blizzard, it would seem they waited a bit too long to set up the gates. It would seem that, once they know it’s bad enough to close in one area, they could close another when the storm just begins rather than when it starts to get bad.

Mike Hennessy

Grand Forks

Thanks for writing! Since your topic is timely, I moved it to the top of my letter stack. Here’s what Jamie Olson of the North Dakota Department of Transportation told me:

“The National Weather Service provides information to the public about weather conditions and oncoming storms or hazardous weather conditions that may be expected. The North Dakota Department of Transportation provides information to the public about road conditions.

“Local law enforcement and North Dakota Highway Patrol have authority to open and close roadways. Roads are closed when conditions create a life-threatening danger to motorists or the roadway is impassable. Roads are opened when it is deemed safe for the traveling public. The NDDOT coordinates the opening and closing of state and interstate highways with the Highway Patrol when conditions warrant.

“Predicting the severity and path of a storm or the impacts it may have to motorists is very difficult, as conditions can quickly change. Storms may impact one area of the state differently than another area.

“NDDOT equipment operators work hard to keep roads open and safe for travel during a storm. However, conditions can be so severe that that is not possible, and the road must close. Equipment operators also provide information on actual road conditions to the NDDOT Travel Information Map on our website and by calling 511 from any phone. These are the best places for the public to go to find out road conditions.

“As conditions deteriorate, the NDDOT issues three levels of travel advisories to caution the public about winter driving conditions. Motorists are encouraged to take these advisories seriously.

“Staying informed by checking the Travel Map or calling 511 is the best line of defense for motorists. Being prepared for winter travel conditions is important. Always check road conditions before you travel, but be prepared by having a winter survival kit in your vehicle at all times.

“Thank you for contacting the North Dakota Department of Transportation.”

Here are also some interesting tidbits that Col. James Prochniak of the Highway Patrol told state senators last week:

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

Email politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman, c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.