PennDOT is inviting motorists to be partners this winter

·7 min read

Oct. 11—Even if you don't drive a truck, PennDOT could use your help this winter.

But if you are qualified to drive a plow truck, the state is hiring and would appreciate a call immediately.

PennDOT is actively seeking more than 600 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. Through the same website, job seekers can apply for over 100 other non-operator winter positions such as diesel and construction equipment mechanics, welders, clerks and more.

Now back to Jane and John Q. Driver. How can they help?

In short, by being prepared.

As we've seen in the Berks and the tri-county area in recent years, weather conditions can change in little more than the blink of an eye.

That's no exaggeration. Remember the 27-vehicle pileup from the white-out during a snow squall that descended on Route 222 in Wyomissing the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2019? A 69-year-old Adamstown man later died of injuries suffered in the event, which triggered a mass casualty response from ambulance companies in the region.

"Our No. 1 priority is safety, and that guides our winter preparations and operations," PennDOT acting Deputy Secretary Melissa Batula said during a media briefing last week. "We are ready for the season ahead, and motorists are our partners in making this season a safe one."

Batula was joined in the virtual briefing by Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission COO Craig Shuey to discuss the commonwealth's plans for services in the coming winter season and how the public can successfully prepare.

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.

One of the overarching tips state officials wanted to convey to motorists is to use the technology available to them via their cellphones to be uber-prepared.

Before the first flake falls — and forecasters are predicting snow accumulation during the month of November and higher snow amounts for the winter season as a whole — is the best time to take 10 seconds and upload the 511PA mobile app on your smartphone to get timely information on traffic delays, weather forecasts as well as plow-truck location.

The public can access travel information year-round on nearly 40,000 state-maintained miles on www.511PA.com, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles.

"Winter storms are a fact of life in our region," Shuey of the Turnpike Commission said, "so drivers should take the time now to inspect the condition of their own vehicles and be sure that wipers and tires will perform well.

"Also, now is the time to download the 511PA app to access traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information for all of Pennsylvania's major roadways. You can be ready for what's up ahead with the swipe of a screen."

During the wintertime, you 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 each of the more than 2,500 department-owned and rented plow trucks to send a cellular signal showing where a truck is located.

With $197.7 million budgeted for this winter's statewide operations, PennDOT deploys about 4,700 on-the-road workers, has more than 560,000 tons of salt on hand across the state and will take salt deliveries throughout the winter.

If motorists encounter snow or ice-covered roads, they should slow down, increase their following distance and avoid distractions. Last winter in Pennsylvania, preliminary data shows there were 301 crashes resulting in four fatalities and 143 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roads where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.

Motorists should prepare for potential bad 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.

"If you must travel during times of inclement winter weather your planning should include knowing how you'll get weather and travel alerts along your entire travel route," Padfield said. "Make sure others know your estimated travel time, and have basic emergency supplies in your car, including any specialized items needed for young children or pets."

Padfield said it's also important to know the difference between a weather watch and warning.

A watch means there is an increased risk of a hazardous weather event, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain. Pay attention to forecasts and plan out what you will do if/when it occurs.

A warning means the weather event is imminent or is happening. Take immediate action to protect lives and property.

Snow squalls can often produce dangerous and deadly travel hazards on otherwise clear winter days, Padfield explained. The National Weather Service now issues snow squall warnings that alert drivers of whiteout conditions and slippery roads, so motorists can avoid traveling directly into these dangerous squalls.

PennDOT's Batula was asked if the department's labor shortage is more critical this year.

She indicated the agency has struggled in recent years to find enough winter help, but this year is worse as more employers have the "help wanted" sign out. Being a government agency, the state's hands are tied somewhat in that PennDOT can't arbitrarily increase the compensation for those positions like private sector employers can.

She added, however, that officials are working on changing that, but any changes won't go into effect immediately.

Winter driving

It's best to eliminate all unnecessary travel when a winter storm is forecast. If you must travel, PennDOT offers the following tips also available by downloading its Winter Driving Guide:

Carry a winter emergency travel kit.

Listen to weather and travel advisories, but if you don't have to travel in bad weather, don't.

Keep your gas tank at least half full.

Slow down and increase following distance.

Avoid sudden stops and starts.

Beware of roads that may look wet, but are actually frozen, often referred to as "black ice."

Use extra caution on bridges and ramps, where ice can often form without warning.

Carry a cellphone.

Do not use cruise control while driving on snow-covered roads.

State law requires you to turn on your headlights when your wipers are on.

Use your low beams in particularly bad weather, especially in cases of heavy or blowing snow.

Remove ice and snow from windows, mirrors, and all vehicle lights before you drive and as often as needed.

Remove snow and ice from the hood and roof of your vehicle. State law states that if snow or ice from your vehicle strikes a vehicle or person and causes death or injury, you can be ticketed.

Do not park or abandon your vehicle on snow emergency routes.

Do not pass or get between trucks plowing in a plow line (several trucks plowing side by side).

Make sure someone else knows where you are going and when you expect to arrive. In case you run into an emergency and need help, someone will know where to look for you.

If you do become stranded, it's better to stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Run the engine every hour or so, but make sure the tailpipe is clear and keep the downwind window cracked open.

Do not drink and drive, and always wear your seat belt.

Preparation is also key to successfully navigating winter roads. Winter weather can bring unexpected conditions, so make sure that both you and your vehicle are ready for ice and snow.

Winter Operations By the Numbers

PennDOT's Berks County operations:

Planned Budget: $3.1 Million

Spent Last Winter: $5.1 Million

Operators: 57

Plow Trucks: 37

Anti-Icing Trucks: 3

Loaders: 6

Graders: 1

Mechanics: 6

Stockpiles: 4

Temporary Operators: 16

Snow-Lane Miles: 2,261

Average Inches of Snow: 26

Municipal Agreement Miles: 665

Tons of Salt Used: 12,939

Gallons of Brine Used: 132,100

Source: PennDOT

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