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MnDOT invests in winter road safety by planting a living snow fence on Hwy. 23

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is installing a living snow fence at the recently completed reduced conflict intersection (also known as a J-turn) at Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 7 in Marshall. A living snow fence is made up of trees, shrubs, native grasses and/or wildflowers to trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a roadway.

“A living snow fence is more than landscaping and highway beautification, it serves a purpose,” said Dan Gullickson, blowing snow control shared services program supervisor. “We engineer blowing snow control using nature; we use plants to mitigate the wind.”

The living snow fence at Highway 23 and Lyon County Road 7 is more than 1,400 feet in length and 50 feet wide, and follows the northwest corner of the reduced conflict intersection. The planting of deciduous trees and shrubs is 10 feet across with 20-foot prairie buffers on either side. The more than 750 plants chosen are native to Minnesota and include American plum trees, fragrant sumac, silver buffaloberry, gray dogwood and glossy black chokeberry.

The snow catch area where the snow drift will form is planted into a native grass wildflower mix that is beneficial for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. The mix includes grasses such as big bluestem and switchgrass, as well as flowers such as New England aster and spotted Joe-pye weed.

Planting began Sept. 23, and all root-ball stock has been installed in tilled and composted soil. The soil was covered with geotextile weed barrier fabric prior to planting to help control weeds and improve overall plant survival, which helps ensure that our investment succeeds. Pea gravel is used as a mulch after planting. The project will be completed during the month of October when buffaloberry bare-root stock goes in the ground.

Living snow fences bring multiple benefits to a roadside, including the capacity to:

• Prevent big snow drifts and icy roads

• Improve driver visibility

• Control soil erosion and reduce spring flooding

• Lessen environmental impact with less salt use, fewer truck trips and less fuel consumption

The project cost is $154,000, and Traverse Des Sioux Garden Center of St. Peter is the contractor. The contractor is responsible for maintaining the living snow fence for a two-year period which begins at the end of planting.

For information on how MnDOT controls blowing and drifting snow through the use of snow fencing, contact Dan Gullickson at 651-366-3610, or visit mndot.gov/environment/livingsnowfence.

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