Local law enforcement officials encourage motorists to stay off roadways during no travel advisories and to travel safely during travel alerts. Law enforcement agencies responded to numerous accidents Monday during blizzard-like conditions.
Bryan Niewind, captain for the North Dakota Highway Patrol southeast region, said the NDHP and North Dakota Department of Transportation has a three-prong approach when it comes to notifying the public of dangerous conditions and they don’t take travel advisories lightly.
Monday, a no travel advisory was issued in the Valley City and surrounding areas due to blowing snow causing near zero visibility. The advisory was issued at the same time Interstate 94 was closed from Valley City to Jamestown due to a traffic incident.
“Yesterday (Monday), we probably had 15 crashes and 40 to 50 vehicles in the ditch, so then we had to respond to them in no visibility conditions,” Niewind said, adding that when motorists do travel during no travel advisories, “number one they’re putting themselves in danger, then if they do get into a crash, they put those who have to respond in danger.”
Niewind said when motorists crash or enter the ditch, the NDHP and other responders help individuals by getting them to safety and often “get a wrecker to come out and remove the cars if they present a travel hazard.”
“It does become a hazard, because on a wrecker, no matter how many lights are on there, (during limited visibility), you’re not going to see them until they’re right there.”
Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said, “Anytime there’s an accident, not only do the people involved get hurt, but there’s a possibility that the responders, ambulance crew, fire department and law enforcement get hurt too. That’s why it’s important to stay off the roads (during no travel advisories) for your own safety and for everyone else’s.”
The Barnes County Sheriff’s Department often assists the NDHP with accidents, including those that occurred Monday.
“We worked together, helped each other with traffic control,” McClaflin said. “You just need as many lights out there as you can get.”
Valley City Police Chief Fred Thompson said, “If (law enforcement) says, ‘stay off the roadway,’ it’s probably in your best interest to do so.
Certainly in those types of situations, we’re busy with all kinds of emergencies that are happening because of the weather, so anyone that is out there driving around could easily become part of the problem instead of the solution.”
A travel advisory, Niewind said, means motorists can still travel but “give yourself enough time to get to where you need to go.” A no travel advisory means that motorists should not be traveling due to
unsafe conditions, including limited visibility and drifting snow.
“When we issue (a no travel advisory), the DOT is probably in the process of pulling their plows, so roadways are going to continue to deteriorate after they pull plows,” Niewind said.
The third step the NDDOT and NDHP make during inclement weather is closing roads. Like Monday, roadways can be closed due to a traffic crash or incident or when roads become so deteriorated that they become impassable because of the weather conditions.
The agencies release information to the media constantly during inclement weather and poor travel conditions.
McClaflin said the county issues travel advisories when necessary but does not block roads.
“We can advise no travel, but we don’t have the means to go out and block the roads,” he said. “We just advise no travel in the county, and people have to make their own decisions from there.”
The sheriff’s department bases travel alerts on visibility as well as the ice, snow and wind. “Visibility is the big thing,” the sheriff said. “If you can’t see, you’re going to go into the ditch.”
Thompson said he asked Valley City residents not to travel Monday as roads became slick.
“We want to keep the roads clear so the plows can do their work. (Drivers) will appreciate it in the morning when they get up and the roads are plowed,” he said.