Mineral County residents have battled the winds for years and have questioned time and time again as to why Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) waits until an accident occurs before closing down Highway 95.
The Independent-News reached out to NDOT after a reader posed the question for the Question of the Week, “What can be done proactively before the wind blows over vehicles on U.S. Highway 95?”
The question sparked many solutions from our Facebook readers such as Charlie Morris from Walker Lake who wrote, “NDOT needs to step up. Instead of turning on a sign and kicking back at a predetermined wind speed, they need to stop high profile vehicles from using this road. Or wait until some innocent people get killed. Which is what it will take before anything changes.”
Meg Ragonese who is NDOT’s public information officer, corresponded with the Independent-News and here is her response to our Question of the Week: “NDOT has a system aimed at helping keep drivers on U.S. 95 both safe and mobile during high winds: NDOT’s 24-hour Reno-based traffic operations center monitors National Weather Service updates and wind, precipitation, temperature and other meteorological data from a roadside weather station located along U.S. 95 in Walker Lake area. As the National Weather Service issues wind advisories, wind warnings or blowing dust advisories for the area, we display those alerts on a series of electronic highway signs stretching from I-80 to Luning, allowing drivers to anticipate potentially heavy winds and reroute or proceed as appropriate for their vehicle.”
Facebook user Greg Coppola answered the Question of the Week by by mentioning the indicator. He wrote, “They put in a wind speed indicator – use it.”
Rogonese continued, “As wind gusts 45 mph or higher are detected by our roadside weather monitoring station, NDOT posts more specific messaging to the electronic highway signs that state strong cross winds are possible and that all trucks, trailers, RVs and buses are not advised. In addition, NDOT road maintenance crews are notified. They then assess current conditions and determine if high-profile vehicles should be prohibited based on current wind and other conditions such as wind direction, ice or blowing dust or snow. When high winds make it necessary to prohibit high-profile vehicles, eight flashing signs on the highway corridor are activated prohibiting high-profile vehicles such as trucks, busses and RVs.”
Facebook user Darlene Reed made mention of the signs in her post, “Believe sign is not before Schurz or Hawthorne where it should be, as its cross winds that take those RVs and lightweight trucks over.”
The state would continue, “While we post signage prohibiting high-profile vehicles from traveling U.S. 95 in this way during high wind events, there are many important reasons why we do not completely close the highway to all traffic during high winds:
• There are no nearby alternate highway corridors and limited areas for vehicles to reroute along the highway. Closing U.S. 95 creates hours of additional driving time for each of the approximately 3,600 drivers who travel the road on an average day. Alternate routes often are also impacted by the same winds and weather conditions as U.S. 95.
• Winds in the area can be extremely intermittent and inconsistent, and wind impacts are very directional. We do not want to create unneeded travel closures or delays based on extremely variable winds which often vary greatly from location to location and minute to minute. This is why NDOT road maintenance staff are dispatched to evaluate specific road and weather impacts for each high wind event.
• In past years, NDOT has instituted road closures to high-profile vehicles in which NDOT road maintenance personnel stopped and reviewed each vehicle before that vehicle could proceed. During wind storms, NDOT maintenance crews are often performing other urgent weather –related tasks such as removal of falling rocks or other blowing debris, or snow and ice removal. Mineral County Search and Rescue is a great partner in staffing certain closures of U.S. 95 in Hawthorne, and our partners at the Nevada Highway Patrol also provide support during incidents. But, even with support of search and rescue volunteers, there is not enough man power to effectively institute a full road closure in which each vehicle is stopped and reviewed for weight and height before being allowed through.
• A closure of U.S. 95 also effectively eliminates travel to and from the Walker Lake community, potentially temporarily isolating the community and limiting residents, and even emergency services, from reaching the community if needed.
• Approximately 25 percent of vehicles traveling this stretch of U.S. 95 are commercial trucks. Whether travel restrictions for oversize vehicles or a full road closure, we want to limit potentially severe impacts to vital deliveries and commerce locally and across the region. We aim to support to the economic vitality of Hawthorne and don’t want to limit or impact the local economy if not necessary for public safety.”
Brian Dillard, a deputy from Mineral County who has worked many road closures expressed his concern on the Independent-News Facebook page, “NDOT to be proactive and more staffing to monitor and close the road.”
“We know that drives and communities depend on U.S. 95 to stay connected and we will continue to do all possible to optimize both traffic mobility, safety and sustain economic vitality within the communities during high winds on the corridor,” the press release concluded.
So, we ask our Independent-News readers, are the explanations that NDOT provided to the Independent-News sufficient or do you still have concerns? Please feel free to send us a Letter to the Editor – they can be dropped off at our location of 420 Third Street, Ste B in Hawthorne, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to PO Box 1270, Hawthorne, NV 89415.