On January 8, 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) officially declared all state highways and U.S. highways in Wisconsin “frozen.” Sure, it’s cold out, but doesn’t that seem a little extreme?

When you learn more about what they really mean by “frozen,” it doesn’t actually seem as strange and extreme as you might initially think.

What does it mean to declare a road as “frozen?”

When it gets cold enough, state law allows WisDOT to declare that roads are frozen. This doesn’t mean that the roads are all covered in ice, but rather that the ground under and around the roads has frozen solid. A side effect of this freezing is that the roads are able to handle more weight, as the frozen ground essentially reinforces them.

So, when WisDOT issues a declaration of “frozen roads,” it’s actually signaling that weight limitations for certain types of vehicles have been raised. Specifically:

  • The increased weight limit applies only to vehicles that haul salt for highways and other abrasives used for winter road maintenance, and vehicles hauling forest products that are cut crosswise (but not wood chips)
  • These vehicles can have a gross weight of 98,000 pounds, which is a significant increase from the usual limit of 80,000 pounds.
  • No special permit is needed for these vehicles, as long as they are already properly licensed in Wisconsin.

Exceptions to the declaration

Not all roads are covered by this declaration. Specific exclusions are:

  • County and town highways, which can only be declared frozen by local authorities.
  • State trunk highways that have special weight restrictions
  • Certain parts of Interstate 39 and Interstate 41

Does this affect anyone other than truckers?

While the declaration won’t change how most drivers go about their days, there is one important thing to remember: trucks with increased load weights are even more dangerous than usual. The more weight on a truck, the longer it takes to stop and the more likely it is to get in an accident if fast braking is needed. Additionally, the damage that a heavy truck can cause on a car or other passenger vehicle is immense, and adding up to another 18,000 pounds to these trucks will only increase the damage that results if there is a crash.

So even though WisDOT declaring the roads “frozen” doesn’t affect you directly, be sure to remain careful around large trucks this winter!