LOCAL

PennDOT, turnpike commission preparing for winter months ahead

Anthony Maenza
York Dispatch

Recent colder temperatures served as a reminder frostier and snowy conditions are just around the corner. 

PennDOT is training more than 425 people to respond to winter weather and rolling out a system of variable speed limit signs to quickly respond to changing road conditions during winter weather events.

Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey outlined plans for winter services, highlighted job opportunities and discussed how the public can prepare for the season. 

"Safety is our top priority, and motorists are our partners in making this season a safe one," Keiser said. "We also have temporary and longer-term employment opportunities and welcome people to join the team in the many types of positions available." 

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey held a media briefing to outline plans for winter services, highlight job opportunities, and discuss how the public can prepare for the season. 

Keiser also outlined a PennDOT signage pilot project that will be used on parts of Interstates 80 and 81 this winter.

“Safety is our top priority, and motorists are our partners in making this season a safe one,” Keiser said. “We also have temporary and longer-term employment opportunities and welcome people to join the team in the many types of positions available.”

Travel information for the public can be accessed at www.511PA.com. It gives information on nearly 40,000 state-maintained roadways, including snow plow location information and when roadways were last plowed. PennDOT's Automated Vehicle Location technology uses units in the over 2,600 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing a truck's location.   

PennDOT offers information and traveler resources on its winter web page. The site also has a complete winter guide with detailed information about winter services in each of PennDOT's 11 engineering districts. 

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The Turnpike Commission has readied itself to confront the winter elements by preparing its entire fleet of trucks, plows and salt spreaders and training more than 425 licensed equipment operators so they are ready to activate 24/7 staffing this fall.  

"Our professional crews have worked hard to prepare for the upcoming winter season, and they are ready," said Shuey. "We ask that all travelers on the Turnpike this winter do their part to be weather-ready for winter travel."

That means keeping vehicles stocked with key items — such as a blanket and snacks — that would be helpful if traffic comes to a stop for a period of time. In extreme weather conditions, motorists should also slow down, activate hazard lights and increase the following distance between other cars.

PennDOT’s signage pilot project this winter, Keiser said, will deploy variable speed limit signs that quickly reduce speed limits when visibility or roadway conditions call for lower speeds at 63 total locations: 

  • 21 locations along I-80 in Clearfield (mile marker 100-133) and Clinton (mile marker 182-193) counties; 
  • Six locations on I-80 in Clarion and Jefferson counties on the approaches to Emlenton Bridge (MM 42-45), North Fork Bridge (MM 78-81) and Kyle Lake Bridge (MM 92-95); and 
  • 36 locations along I-81 from I-78 to I-80 in Lebanon (five locations), Luzerne (seven locations) and Schuylkill (24 locations) counties. 

While the VSLs are in place through April, permanent speed limit signs will be covered, and the normal posted speed limit will be displayed on the VSL unless visibility or winter weather conditions call for slower speeds. When speed limits are reduced, a yellow light at the top and bottom of the VSL will be flashing to ensure motorists are aware of the change. 

Variable speed limit, or VSL, signs quickly reduce speed limits when visibility or roadway conditions call for lower speeds.

The state budgeted $212 million for this winter's statewide operation. PennDOT deploys about 4,700 on-the-road workers, has more than 636,000 tons of salt on hand across the state and will take salt deliveries throughout the winter. 

PennDOT is actively seeking nearly 700 temporary equipment operators statewide for the winter season to supplement the department's full-time staff. Details on minimum requirements, such as possession of a CDL, as well as application information are available at www.employment.pa.gov

Last winter, preliminary statewide data shows that there were 266 crashes resulting in two fatalities and 116 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors. 

Motorists should prepare for potential wintry weather by ensuring they have supplies in their cars before heading out: food, water, blankets, extra gloves and hats, cellphone charger, hand or foot warmers, windshield brush and scraper, and any specialized items like medications or baby and pet supplies. 

In addition, snow squalls can often produce dangerous and deadly travel hazards on otherwise clear winter days. The National Weather Service now issues "snow squall warnings" to alert drivers of whiteout conditions and slippery roadways, so motorists can avoid traveling directly into these dangerous squalls.