By Dan Nienaber
The Free Press
MANKATO — With road crews at the ready, Mankato street workers were able to keep main thoroughfares decent Sunday. Travel outside the city was another story.
Highway 68 was closed for a few hours Sunday afternoon as road crews attempted to deal with a slippery hill just west of Judson. Before the work was done a highway sanding truck was tipped over in the ditch.
Employees at All American Towing & Repair said a vast majority of their 27 calls by about 3 p.m. were on roads outside of Mankato. Four of those calls came at about the same time from that one stretch of road on Highway 68. And more vehicles were taken away by another towing company called to the scene, said Mark Devlaeminck, All American shift supervisor.
Vehicles going up the steep hill were losing traction and sliding back into a guard rail. When the truck was sent out to pour sand on the ice, it ended up tipping into the ditch, Devlaeminck said.
Slippery conditions on area highways and county roads were also catching drivers by surprise.
“I've had five people on duty working steady all day and I had to call in an extra dispatcher,” he said. “One of the biggest factors we deal with is that traffic doesn’t slow down.”
Drivers in areas across southern Minnesota, including the Mankato region, were being asked to stay off the roads unless travel was absolutely necessary. The Minnesota Department of Transportation warned drivers that they could be caught off guard by icy sections of roads to the south of Belle Plaine and Northfield.
Two drivers were injured Sunday in one-vehicle crashes on Highway 111 in Nicollet County and Highway 22 in Blue Earth County, the State Patrol reported. Jodi Brandmire, 32, of Shakopee, was on Highway 111 when her 2000 Chevy Blazer left the road at about 11:30 A.M. and rolled several times. At about 2:20 p.m.. 52-year-old Steven Robbins of Mapleton was traveling south on Highway 22 when his 2003 Ford F-150 left the road and rolled. Both drivers were taken to hospitals to be treated for non-life threatening injuries, the reports said.
Jim Braunshausen, Mankato Street Department superintendent, said his crews were prepared because they knew the potential for icy roads was coming. Seven plow drivers were called in at 9:30 a.m. as the rain started and were on the road by 10 a.m. Two additional drivers had joined them by noon. Their priority was to get salt on the city's main roads.
“As soon as it started raining it turned to ice instantly,” Braunshausen said. “It was just black ice.”
Temperatures cooperated during the day, staying well above the 15 degree mark where salt loses its effectiveness, he said. Road crews were going home at about 8 p.m. and returning to the streets at 3 a.m., so Braunshausen said he expected Mankato roads to be in decent shape for today’s morning commute.
“This would have been a lot harder to deal with if it had gotten any colder,” he said. “The salt that's on the ground now will really be in our favor.”
Icy rain didn’t keep Mount Kato from hosting a group from Hosanna Highland Church for an afternoon outing Sunday. About 30 church members had the ski hill, its lifts and the tubing hill pretty much to themselves. There were going to be about 75 people joining the group, but most were kept home by the sloppy weather.
“We didn’t think they were going to close down,” said Melissa Sailor, one of the trip organizers. “We were just worried about getting here.”
Sailor and Raenee Traetow, another organizer, said they stuck to the tubing hill because the rain had made the ski hills too fast.
“We got here and there was no one on the slopes,” Traetow said. “They just said, ‘You’re here to ski, so you’ll ski.”