Kathy Liebler
                        Director of Public Information

C   O   M   M   I   S   S   I   O   N                N   E   W   S             R   E   L   E   A   S   E   

  Contact:   Carl DeFebo, 717-939-9551, extension 2934

November 19, 1999


Travelers urged to call 1-800-331-3414 for roadway and weather information.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Turnpike is preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday period — the busiest five days of the year on "America’s First Superhighway." In preparation, all construction and maintenance projects have been scheduled to provide maximum use of the roadway. Four lanes of traffic (five and six where applicable) will be kept open on the entire, 506-mile system.

Officials anticipate that nearly 2 million vehicles will use the Turnpike from Wednesday Nov. 24 through Sunday Nov. 28. Last year, almost 1.9 million cars and trucks took the Turnpike during the Thanksgiving period. This Thanksgiving, traffic officials expect the heaviest traffic volumes will occur on Wednesday evening and on Sunday beginning in the afternoon.

In preparation for the increased traffic, the Turnpike has reestablished four-lane patterns on a six-mile section of roadway between Interchanges 14 and 15 in Franklin County. Traffic had been limited to one lane in each direction since Sept. 8 due to a major, total-reconstruction project — the first time the original 160-mile Turnpike has been renewed from the ground up since it opened nearly 60 years ago.

Oversized and overweight vehicles are banned on the Turnpike during the Thanksgiving holiday — from sundown Tuesday, Nov. 23 to sunrise Monday, Nov. 29. The restriction applies to all vehicles exceeding any of the following dimensions or weights;

    • 10 feet wide;
    • 85 feet long;
    • 13 feet high; and
    • 100,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.

Should the holiday forecast include snow, sleet or freezing rain, Turnpike maintenance crews are prepared to respond 24-hours-a-day at a moment’s notice to keep the highway open and safe.

"To be sure, the Turnpike’s maintenance department is committed to providing a safe roadway throughout the year," said Director of Maintenance Robert Wallet. "That commitment is backed up by a $6 million annual wintertime maintenance budget — about 15 percent of the Turnpike’s total annual maintenance budget."

When bad weather strikes, the maintenance department deploys an impressive army of resources, including:

  • a dedicated staff of roughly 800 trained maintenance personnel in 20 maintenance facilities throughout the system;
  • an arsenal of heavy equipment including 225 plow/spreader-equipped dump trucks and 45 front-end loaders dedicated to fighting weather-related road conditions; and
  • 125,000 tons (or 250 million pounds estimated annual usage) of salt, anti-skid material and calcium.

"Regardless of what weather is in store, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is prepared to provide our customers with the highest level of service and the safest possible roadway," said Turnpike Executive Director John T. Durbin. He explained that the Turnpike’s longstanding bare pavement plowing policy — coupled with an effective "plow train" snow-removal practice — helps to ensure that motorists will experience a passable road in snowy or icy conditions.

Before departing for their destinations, however, travelers should call the Turnpike’s toll-free weather line at 1-(800) 331-3414 for roadway and weather information.

Turnpike safety officials also recommend drivers be sensible about holiday travel and plan ahead.

"Before a trip, get a good night’s sleep, allow extra time to reach your destination, and have your vehicle winterized," said Capt. Richard A. Stein, commander of the Turnpike State Police Troop. He suggested that motorists have their vehicles serviced and equipped with all-weather tires. It’s also a good idea to carry a "winter-ready" kit containing an ice-scraper, snow removal brush, flashlight, batteries and a blanket.

"During your travels, require all passengers to buckle-up, and insure that all children under age four are properly secured in an approved seat," Capt. Stein added. "We are urging motorists to obey the speed limit, remain alert, drive cautiously, and be courteous to other drivers."

Maintenance crews, safety patrols, and the Pennsylvania State Police will boost their forces over the holiday period to assist stranded motorists on the highway. In addition to patrolling for speeders, troopers will be looking for drivers who appear to be sleepy or intoxicated.

The Turnpike’s 22 service plazas will be open around the clock to provide relief for weary motorists in need of restrooms, fuel and food.

Bright yellow emergency call boxes located every mile both east and westbound along the Turnpike should be used by motorists who experience breakdowns, accidents or other incidents. Help can also be called by dialing *11 on a cellular phone or utilizing the toll-free emergency number posted on all service-plaza payphones.

As in past years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is using the Thanksgiving holiday to kick off the annual "Tie One On For Safety" campaign. Red ribbons will be available to customers at all Turnpike Service Plazas to create more public awareness about the consequences of drunk driving. Motorists are encouraged to tie the red ribbon to a visible place on their vehicle symbolizing their pledge to drive safe and sober during the holiday season and to remind other motorists to do the same.

In addition, the Turnpike is supporting the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s "Celebrate Safely" campaign to raise awareness about the importance of celebrating and enjoying the holiday season in a safe manner. "Celebrate Safely" posters will be displayed at Turnpike interchanges and service plazas through the New Year.

"This is one more way to shore up our defenses against drunk and unsafe driving and continue to maintain the Turnpike’s outstanding safety record," Durbin explained. "More than 4 million vehicles are expected to travel the Turnpike over the holiday weekends of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, so ‘Celebrate Safely’ is a message that can’t be emphasized enough."

Also in the name of safety, state police will conduct voluntary child safety seat checks at the Peter J. Camiel Service Plaza in Chester County on Tuesday, Nov. 23. These optional inspections are part of a national safety campaign called "Operation ABC: America Buckles up Children." Parents can have a trooper verify that the seat is correctly installed and that the restraint functions as it should.

"Our Thanksgiving wish is that all who travel our highway arrive at their destinations safe and sound," Durbin said.


 P.O. Box 67676, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7676         Phone: (717) 939-9551         Fax: (717) 986-9649