Expressway operators to issue early alerts ahead of road closures due to heavy snow

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A long line of vehicles sits trapped in heavy snow on the Hokuriku Expressway in Eiheiji, Fukui Prefecture, on Jan. 10.

To avoid a repeat of vehicle strandings on snow-covered roads this winter, three expressway operators will start issuing alerts at least three hours before a planned closure.

East Nippon Expressway Co., Central Nippon Expressway Co. and West Nippon Expressway Co. will rely on weather forecasts and other data to determine which expressway sections need to be closed, and then use various channels to notify drivers about the upcoming closures.

The companies, which launched the system in response to a request from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, hope drivers will make use of the notifications to avoid affected expressways ahead of closures.

Road closures have typically been treated as a last-resort measure to prevent disruptions to logistics networks. However, following a spate of incidents in which vehicles were stuck on expressways due to heavy snow, the focus has shifted to preventing strandings to protect lives.

Decisions to close expressway sections will be based on factors including weather forecasts, road conditions and snow-clearing capacity. A liaison headquarters comprising officials from the ministry, expressway operators, police, local governments and other entities will assess whether roads need to be closed.

If a decision is made to close a section of an expressway, the operators will notify the public using the internet and road displays, among other methods.

The three-hour time frame was chosen because weather and road condition forecasts would be sufficiently accurate, and drivers would have enough time to prevent the traffic chaos that typically occurs after sudden road closures.

Snow removal operations will be concentrated on closed expressway sections. The operators will aim to quickly reopen the roads once they have been deemed safe.

“Avoiding nonurgent and unnecessary outings is the best solution during heavy snow,” a transport ministry official said. “But if drivers absolutely must use the roads, we urge them to check for notifications and consider taking different routes.”