The 24-hour closure of Interstate 15 left about 30 truckers and other travelers stuck overnight in the 500-person city of Dubois.
The Idaho Transportation Department closed I-15 between Dubois and the Montana border late Sunday morning after receiving reports of low visibility and blowing snow. The department used signs and the 511 app to warn drivers away from the area, but many ended up forced to spend the night in Dubois and other towns along the highway.
“We do try to keep the roads open as much as we can, except in extreme cases of snow,” ITD regional spokeswoman Megan Stark said.
Closures of I-15 between Dubois and the Montana border were a more common occurrence in decades past. Anecdotally, the Post Register archives show 67 articles about closures along that stretch in the 1970s and another 74 during the 1980s, including two in the week of Dec. 26, 1982, and more than 200 travelers stuck in Dubois during a blizzard in 1989.
From 2000 to 2009, the Post Register printed just seven articles reporting closures between Dubois and the Montana line. Electronic traffic signs and mobile apps have helped reduce the number of people stranded along that stretch of I-15 by providing them early notice of the closing and allowing them to change their travel plans as needed.
Sunday was not the first highway closure Dubois has seen in recent years, either for winter storms or the Grassy Ridge fire last July. After the local hotels and inns fill up, the Clark County Community Building becomes the emergency rest stop for the region. County emergency manager Jill Egan and more than a dozen volunteers spent Sunday preparing cots in the facility and organizing food to feed the stranded drivers.
“By the time (the truck drivers) get here, they’re really grateful to be here and grateful that this facility is available for them,” Egan said.
Egan said 10 drivers spent the night sleeping on cots kept in the center. Even more came through to get free food — chili and snacks were made for dinner Sunday, while biscuits and sausage were ready for the stranded travelers Monday morning before the roads reopened. ITD reopened the highway just after noon Monday and the city emptied out quickly afterward.
Sunday was the first time this winter that ITD officials closed that stretch of highway. But with another storm expected to come through later this week, Dubois residents are ready to welcome another group of drivers to the Community Building.
“We’re just being prepared in case there’s another need for the shelter to be opened,” Egan said.
Weather conditions and road closures will be announced by the Idaho Transportation Department on the 511 website and app.