PennDOT is ready for winter. How about you?
“I can tell you that PennDOT’s ready,” Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser said during a press briefing on the issue. “For us, winter never really ends. We’ve been preparing for this winter since the end of last winter.”
The department, which is responsible for roughly 96,000 road miles in the commonwealth, is poised to deploy 4,700 over-the-road workers and some new technology to deal with whatever winter brings.
In another sign that snow and sleet are just down the road, PennDOT’s Berks County maintenance staff spent a week this fall at the District Winter Academy, PennDOT district spokesman Ronald J. Young Jr. said.
Prepared as they may be, highway equipment operators can’t do it all, officials say.
Keiser, who was joined by Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey for the Oct. 11 briefing in Harrisburg to outline plans for winter services, said they need the public to be their partner in keeping the roads safe.
Motorists can help by being prepared for changes in road conditions, allowing extra time during inclement weather and maintaining a safe distance when traveling around plow trucks.
Last winter, according to PennDOT, there were 266 crashes on snowy, slushy or ice-covered state roads in which aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding and rapid lane changes were factors. Two people died in those accidents.
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Keiser said. “Let’s get home safely every day this winter season.”
Resources for motorists
The public can access travel information on nearly 40,000 state-maintained roadway miles at 511PA.com, and during the winter they can find plow-truck locations and details of when state-maintained roads were last plowed.
The information is made possible by PennDOT’s Automated Vehicle Location technology, which uses units in the more than 2,600 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing a truck’s location.
Speaking of technology, PennDOT will deploy variable speed limit signs on Interstate 81 and Interstate 80 in a pilot program. The portable electronic variable speed limit signs allow PennDOT to quickly reduce speed limits when visibility or road conditions call for lower speeds at 63 locations, including 24 spots on I-81 in Schuylkill County.
While those portable signs are in place through April, permanent speed limit signs will be covered, and the normal posted speed limit will be displayed on the portable signs 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 portable signs will be flashing to alert motorists of the change.
Locations were chosen based on crash and weather data, such as frequent wintry conditions and where crashes caused by whiteout conditions led to road closures of more than three hours. Those criteria would seem to put I-78 in northern Berks high on the list, but apparently other locations were deemed a higher priority.
Help with preparation
To help the public prepare, PennDOT has launched a website, penndot.gov/winter, that includes a winter guide with travel safety tips. It also includes detailed information about winter services in each of PennDOT’s 11 engineering districts.
Users of the turnpike, which crosses the southern tip of Berks as Interstate 76 at the Morgantown interchange, should take the time now to assure their vehicles are ready for winter, Shuey said.
“Our professional crews have worked hard to prepare for the upcoming winter season, and they are ready,” he said. “We ask that all travelers on the turnpike this winter do their part to be weather-ready for winter travel. Keeping your vehicle stocked for winter with whatever you might need for your health, safety and comfort should traffic come to a stop for an extended period of time can make a big difference in cold weather.
“We also ask that you consider how to react to extreme whiteout conditions that can occur without notice. Be prepared to slow down, don’t panic stop, activate your hazard lights and extend your following distance to prevent dangerous multivehicle crashes.”
PennDOT has 646,000 tons of salt stockpiled throughout the state and will take deliveries throughout the winter, Keiser said. Last winter, PennDOT used about 800,000 tons of material to treat the state roads.
Short on help
The agency is having a harder time stocking up on help.
PennDOT is 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 employment.pa.gov.
On the same website, job-seekers can apply for more than 100 other non-operator winter positions such as diesel and construction equipment mechanics, welders, clerks and more.
“We have many people who have grown their careers at PennDOT by starting as operators or temporary operators,” Keiser said. “We’d love to have you on our team,” Keiser said.
Winter operations by the numbers
PennDOT’s Berks County operations:
Planned budget: $3.1 million
Spent last winter: $5.1 million
Plow trucks: 37
Anti-icing trucks: 3
Temporary operators: 16
Snow-lane miles: 2,261
Average inches of snow: 26
Municipal agreement miles: 665
Tons of salt used: 11,862
Gallons of brine used: 72,805
Source: Berkshire mont