PennDOT Prepared for Winter, Encourages Motorists to Plan Ahead

HARRISBURG – PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E., announced that more than 2,200 plow trucks are ready to go when that first winter storm strikes the commonwealth.

“As caretaker of nearly 40,000 miles of state roads and 25,000 bridges, PennDOT strives to be as prepared as possible for whatever winter throws at us,” Biehler said. “We started preparing for this winter when last winter ended — from our operators doing dry runs of their routes to garage staff servicing our vehicles. We work extremely hard to ensure that everyone is prepared for that first snowfall.”

About 5,400 PennDOT employees will be working hard to keep Pennsylvania roads passable during winter storms. PennDOT reminds motorists roadways such as interstates and expressways will be its primary focus and at times, the department may redirect equipment to these routes during significant winter events. During these heavier storms, motorists may encounter deeper accumulations on less traveled routes and they should adjust their driving for those conditions.

To battle these winter storms, PennDOT has budgeted $245 million this year and has more than 673,000 tons of salt stored at more than 400 locations across the state.

Salt continues to be the primary weapon against winter precipitation. PennDOT uses salt brine to pre-wet the salt, which increases its effectiveness during cold weather and helps it work more quickly. Department trucks are equipped with electronic salt spreaders that automatically dispense the correct amount of salt regardless of the vehicle’s speed.

PennDOT has agreements with more than 700 municipalities for them to clear state roads within their jurisdictions. The department also rents approximately 270 trucks and operators to assist with snow removal as needed.

While the equipment may be set, PennDOT reminds motorists that they also need to make the appropriate preparations to help navigate roads this winter.

Motorists can get a little extra help this winter when planning snowy commutes by calling 511 or visiting 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, average traffic speeds on urban interstates and access to more than 440 traffic cameras. Starting in November, 511 will provide simple to use, color-coded winter road conditions for all interstates and other routes covered in the 511 reporting network.

“We are encouraging motorists to take advantage of 511PA and check traffic and weather conditions before they leave,” Biehler said. “We also want to stress that if you must call 511 from the road, pull over to a safe place before making the call. Your full attention should be on the road at all times when you are driving.”

Along with 511PA, PennDOT will introduce a special winter page on the department’s Web site, Two of the main features of the page will be brochures for motorists covering topics such as preparing your vehicle for winter and how PennDOT battles winter storms.

“I am cautioning every driver to take the threat of winter weather seriously and prepare,” Biehler said. “Once you are out on the highway and encounter snow, sleet or ice, it’s too late to worry if your vehicle can handle the conditions.”

PennDOT encourages motorists to have a mechanic they trust check their vehicle’s belts, hoses, battery and brakes. Drivers should also check that the heater and defroster are working properly and that the wipers don’t streak.

Motorists should also check their tires for proper inflation and sufficient tread depth. A quick way to check tread depth is to insert a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down. If you can see the entire head, your tires are worn and will not be able to pull your vehicle through winter.

In addition, if you live in an area prone to heavy snow, drivers may want to consider using dedicated snow tires or carrying a set of tire chains. At a minimum, all-season tires should at least be mud and snow rated.

The last step to equipping your vehicle for winter is to pack an emergency kit that includes items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket and small snow shovel. However, motorists should tailor their kits to any specific need they or their families may have. Items such as baby supplies, extra medication, pet supplies, a spare cell phone or even children’s games should be included for families that need them.

Finally, motorists need to remember to slow down and increase their following distance when confronted with snowy or icy roads. In 2008, there were more than 7,700 crashes and 51 fatalities on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless changes led to the crash.

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