PennDOT crews ready for winter

From staff reports

Even though Friday felt like spring and forecasts look pretty good for at least the next seven to 10 days, PennDOT’s northwestern region is prepared for winter weather and is urging motorists to get ready as well.

“Our maintenance units (in Venango, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Mercer and Warren counties) are ready for the ice and snow that we know is coming,” said PennDOT District 1 Executive William Petit. “Our equipment has been converted for winter operations, we have stocked supplies of road salt and other materials, and our employees will soon be working winter shift schedules.”

“This is also the time when motorists should be thinking about winter driving as well,” Petit said. “Make sure vehicles are ready for winter, check your tires, prepare a winter travel kit, and be aware of the need to slow down and increase following distances during winter road conditions.”

Next week is the time when District 1 maintenance employees traditionally begin winter shifts. That schedule typically has one shift starting at 4 a.m. and working until noon with another shift starting at noon and working until 8 p.m. If plowing or salting is required during the night, shifts are held over or called in early to provide 24-hour coverage.

District 1 has 185 plow trucks. They include 30 in Venango County, 43 in Erie County, 12 in Forest County, 35 in Mercer County, 38 in Crawford County and 27 in Warren County.

During the winter of 2016-17, those trucks spread more than 75,000 tons of salt and 78,000 tons of anti-skid over the 8,433 snow lane miles of state roads in the northwestern region.

The northwest region gets the most snow of any of PennDOT’s 11 districts. PennDOT anticipates an overall average of 83 inches of snow a year in District 1.

The annual snowfall averages anticipated for the individual counties include 108 inches in Warren, 104 inches in Erie, 90 inches in Crawford, 75 inches in Venango, 72 inches in Forest, and 39 inches in Mercer County.

District 1 has budgeted $18 million for winter services this year, although the district had to spend $27.9 million on winter last year. Salt costs are bid by county and remain unchanged from last year — $65.59 a ton in Crawford, $44.78 a ton in Erie, $64.99 a ton in Forest, $59.99 a ton in Mercer, $56.99 a ton in Venango, and $51.19 a ton in Warren.

“Keeping roads safe and passable in winter represents a major investment for us,” said Petit. “It is vitally important that we plan carefully, make good decisions, and manage resources wisely.”

Motorists should not expect bare pavements while snow is falling. The average plow route in Pennsylvania is 40 miles long, although plow routes on individual roads and types of roads vary widely. Under ideal conditions, it can typically take two hours for a plow truck to cover a route on an interstate highway, three hours on a major traffic route, and longer on secondary roads. But the heavier the traffic or precipitation on a roadway, the longer it will take to cover a plow route.

PennDOT’s primary focus when winter weather hits is on interstates and expressways, and equipment might be redirected to heavier traveled routes during significant winter events.

When they are on wintry roads, motorists should not crowd plow trucks that are clearing snow and ice, Petit urged.

“Give our operators room to work,” he said. “And always keep safety as your foremost consideration in winter travel.”

Motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information, and access to more than 850 traffic cameras.