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Permanent snow fence provides another option for improving winter driving safety

12/07/2021

5F10267C-354B-40BB-8793-BAF5F3E168F2National research has found that it costs 100 times more to plow snow than to trap it with a snow fence. While installing snow fence does replace plowing snow, it is used in targeted areas that quickly fill back in a few minutes after the plow has cleared the road.

Just like you probably wouldn’t choose a hammer as the most effective tool to cut a piece of wood, we must also choose the right snow fence tool to greatly increase our efficiency and probability of success. At the Iowa DOT, our snow fence tool kit contains an assortment of options that includes temporary wooden or plastic fencing; living snow fence using trees, bushes, or native grasses; standing corn in farm fields; round bale barriers next to the roadside; and permanent fence installed in areas where blowing and drifting snow have historically been an issue.

“Collecting the data on a specific area is critical to making the right choice when it comes to snow fence,” said Craig Bargfrede, Iowa DOT winter operations administrator. “It may sound obvious, but to be effective, the right fence needs to be installed at the right location. Things we look at include the configuration of the road, the area’s typography, the prevailing wind direction, and the history of blowing and drifting.”

Permanent fencing provides many benefits

Perma RailAll of the snow fence options have benefits and drawbacks, but one option, permanent snow fence, has proven to be particularly versatile and effective when used in the correct location.

Tina Greenfield from our Maintenance Bureau, said, “This type of snow fence can be used in the same areas as our standing corn program. The difference is the standing corn program requires farmers and the DOT to enter into a new contract each year to determine where corn will remain in the field after harvest to help control blowing snow, but the permanent fence is a longer-term commitment that allows farmers the flexibility to switch crops from year to year.”

Permanent fencing consists of hard plastic that is installed in sections that can be easily replaced if they become damaged. Greenfield explained the placement of the fence. “We place the fence in the field along a trouble spot in the road. There is a minimal footprint, just two to three feet wide. We try to make it easy for farmers to work around it. Since it is left up all the time, there’s no ongoing work with this type of fence unless it’s been damaged. Once installed, the permanent fence can last 10 to 15 years.”

Like the Standing Corn Program, the Iowa DOT pays a farmer a fee to allow the fence placement in a farm field along a state highway that historically sees a lot of blowing and drifting snow. Greenfield said, “The agreement is usually for five years and we provide the materials and installation. Our folks monitor for damage, but we appreciate our farmer partners who keep an eye on things and let us know when something needs to be repaired.”

Another benefit Greenfield noted is that this type of fencing can be installed in any open space, it doesn’t need to be a plowed field. She said, “We could place these fences in just about any area, including pastures. What’s really important is the impact the fence has on knocking down the blowing and drifting snow on the roadway.”

If you would like more information on the Iowa DOT’s snow fence program and options, contact your local garage or go to https://iowadot.gov/maintenance/winter-operations/snow-fence.  


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Iowa highway in the evening