Governor Wolf and Transportation, Emergency Management Provide Update on Winter Storm
January 23, 2016
Harrisburg, PA – With much of Pennsylvania in the midst of a winter storm, Governor Tom Wolf, and the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) advised that while crews and staff have been working through the storm, hazardous conditions will persist throughout the day. There is also an ongoing, multi-agency response to a backlog of cars on I-76 near Somerset, where emergency personnel have performed multiple driver checks.
“The safety of Pennsylvanians is my top priority, as many areas across Pennsylvania have been hit hard by this storm, which features heavy snow falling at a fast rate” said Governor Wolf. “First responders from multiple state, county and local agencies are working together to address issues and ensure people are safe. Hazardous conditions will persist throughout the day and we are urging people to stay off the roadways for their own safety and to allow PennDOT to clear the snow.”
I-76 Response and Driver Checks
As westbound tractor trailers became unable to climb a hill toward the Allegheny tunnels, traffic backed up behind them. As progress was made to clear the initial stranded trucks, other trucks also became unable to go up the hill. This caused a backlog for all vehicles. Due to the backlog, emergency crews are unable to get heavy–duty tow trucks to the scene to clear the disabled trucks. The backlog also prevents Turnpike road crews from being able to clear the snow for motorists.
Plan X was instituted by PSP and the Turnpike overnight to start turning people around, and having cars exit turnpike in opposite direction. There are more than 135 first responders on the scene. Plan X is the method by which the Turnpike Commission, in emergency situations such as multiple vehicle accidents, closes certain sections of the Turnpike and reroutes traffic around the affected sections.
When the backlog was reported, PEMA contacted Somerset/Bedford emergency management to add extra resources for driver checks by first responders on ATVs. There are five fire departments, including Shanksville, Berlin, Shawnee Valley, New Baltimore, and Somerset, and Pennsylvania State Police personnel performing driver checks. Every car has been checked multiple times.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is refueling cars that are low on fuel so they can keep heat running in their cars. There is a warming shelter at the Bedford exit, with additional EMS on standby there. The National Guard, as a second responder, has been deployed with shovels, MREs, water and chains to assist with driver checks and stuck cars.
PennDOT Vehicle and Speed Restrictions
Beginning at 8:00 A.M. due to extreme winter road conditions, PennDOT is temporarily restricting certain vehicles from Interstates across the southern sections of Pennsylvania.
The purpose of the ban is to help ensure the interstates remain open during the most challenging conditions of the winter storm. When conditions improve, PennDOT will remove the travel restrictions.
“PennDOT has more than 2,200 trucks statewide to battle winter weather and many of them have been working since before the storm to treat the roads, but travel is still hazardous in many areas and should be avoided if possible,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “The high accumulations coupled with strong winds will make visibility and road conditions very difficult.”
The types of vehicles prohibited from traveling on the interstate highways in the region are:
- Empty straight trucks;
- Large Combination Vehicles (tandem trailers and doubles);
- Tractors hauling empty trailers;
- Trailers pulled by passenger vehicles;
- Motorcycles; and
- Recreational Vehicles, or RVs.
Due to the winter storm, PennDOT has temporarily reduced speeds to 45 mph on:
· Interstate 80 in Clearfield, Centre, Clinton, Union, Montour and Columbia counties.
· Interstate 95 in Delaware and Bucks counties and Philadelphia.
· Interstate 676 in Philadelphia
· Interstate 476 in Delaware and Montgomery counties
· Interstate 76 in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
· Interstate 78 in Lebanon, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties
· Interstate 176 in Berks County.
· Interstate 81 in Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin, and Lebanon counties.
· Interstate 83 in York, Cumberland and Dauphin counties
· Interstate 283 in Dauphin County.
· Interstate 70 in Washington, Westmoreland, Bedford and Fulton counties
· Interstate 79 in Greene, Washington, Allegheny and Beaver counties.
· Interstate 279 in Allegheny County
· Interstate 376 in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.
· Interstate 579 in Allegheny County.
· US 322 in Juniata and Mifflin counties.
· US 422 in Berks and Montgomery counties
· Route 581 in Cumberland County
· The Pennsylvania Turnpike has restricted doubles, empties and towed trailers.
With each PennDOT plow having an average of 40 miles to cover on its plow route, it takes a few hours to return to the route’s start point on interstates and expressways, or longer during heavier accumulations and on lower-traffic roadways. During periods of heavy snowfall, several inches of snow will accumulate on roads before a plow returns to clear it.
PEMA Weather Update
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency reports that winter storm conditions continue across the commonwealth this morning. The storm system is expected to remain particularly intense with snowfall rates of 1-2” per hour through midday before tapering a bit by early afternoon. A sharp cutoff in snow continues around the I-80 corridor. Snow should exit the Commonwealth by late Saturday evening. Colder air has produced a more powdery snow, which will combine with winds to produce blowing snow hazards that will continue well after midnight. Snow totals around two feet or more remain possible south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The winter storm’s high winds and snowfall rates pose potential risks beyond travel, and PEMA has been working around the clock to assist local emergency management agencies, other state agencies and law enforcement.
Pennsylvania residents can visit www.511PA.com for travel information such as incidents, winter road conditions and to view traffic cameras. The public can also track more than 700 department and contracted trucks on interstates and expressways statewide with the site’s new “Plow Trucks” option.
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