The Iowa Department of Transportation is installing automated snow gates in two locations near Mason City in northern Iowa. It’s part of a pilot project to close down the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 in the event of a severe snowstorm. Willy Sorenson with the DOT says, in the past, closing I-35 has involved placing two snowplows across the roadway.
“That’s what we want to get away from,” Sorenson said. “Obviously, those snowplows should be doing something else during a snowstorm…like plowing.” The DOT selected I-35 in northern Iowa because it typically has some of the worst conditions, forcing authorities to shut it down a few times every winter. The remote-controlled gates will be located on I-35 southbound and on the westbound lanes of U.S. Highway 18.
Sorenson says closing 18 will reroute vehicles into Mason City. The gates will likely be installed sometime before Christmas. “And then probably sometime after the first of the year, we will have them automated so we can open and close them remotely with a garage-door opener type of mechanism that are inside the snowplows,” Sorenson said.
The idea behind placing automated gates directly on I-35 is designed to keep motorists from becoming stranded on the roadway. Currently, closing the interstate involves manually closing gates located on on-ramps between Ames and the Minnesota border. “That’s very labor intensive to go up and down the interstate and close (the gates) and then open them when the roadways open,” Sorenson said.
Caution lights will alert drivers when the gates are being closed. The gates costs about $15,000 each. Sorenson says Minnesota has automated gates at 46 locations on its highways and interstates. These will be the first remote-control snow gates in Iowa.