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

December 20, 1999



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

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Turnpike reassures motorists that it is ready to confront wintry weather, even though the Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a milder, drier winter with below-normal snowfall for much of Pennsylvania.

"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 Executive Director John T. Durbin.

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

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

  • a dedicated staff of 800 trained maintenance personnel in 20 facilities throughout the 506-mile 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;
  • 125,000 tons (or 250 million pounds estimated annual usage) of salt, anti-skid material and calcium;
  • a longstanding bare-pavement policy coupled with an effective plow-train practice.

"Our objective is to achieve bare-pavement conditions as soon as possible after a snowstorm hits," said Director of Maintenance Robert M. Wallett. "And we work to maintain such road conditions during the entire life of the storm."

While he explained that maintaining a bare pavement is more costly than the standard practice of leaving residue, he said that the extra cost is well worth the benefits. "It demonstrates our commitment to the customer to provide the clearest possible roadway," Wallett said. "It distinguishes us from the average road."

In heavy storms, maintenance teams use a "plow train" of five to six trucks staggered from median to shoulder. With this method — one of the most effective ways to clear the entire width of the road in one pass — each truck is positioned to pick up where the truck in front left off.

Motorists traveling behind plow trains are urged to be patient. "Remember, the road in front of the plows is still snow covered," Wallett pointed out. "You might speed up to pass the plow line and end up skidding into an embankment, a gully, or worse."

Officials expect more than 2 million motorists will travel the Turnpike from Friday, Dec. 24 through Sunday, Jan. 2. Throughout the holiday period, additional State Police and Turnpike maintenance crews will patrol the Turnpike looking for speeders, drunk and drowsy drivers and disabled vehicles.

Capt. Richard A. Stein, commanding officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike State Police, urges motorists to wear seat belts and use child-safety restraints. "Current seat-belt and child-restraint laws will be strictly enforced," he said. "We want everyone on the Turnpike to safely reach their destinations."

"Turnpike motorists are our valued customers, and our strong plea to them this holiday season is simple: Buckle up before your journey," said Durbin. "Statistics prove that seat-belt usage saves lives."

"By wearing seat belts, you drastically reduce the risk of fatality," Risk Manager Dennis L. Genevie added. "Many people who were killed in car accidents would be with us today if they had simply buckled up."

To help avoid drowsiness, drivers are encouraged to take breaks at any of the Turnpike’s 22 service plazas that are open 24-hours a day. New Year’s Eve travelers are invited to enjoy a free cup of hot coffee available at all service plazas from 10 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 31, to 7 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 1.

In addition, motorists are urged to give their vehicles a comprehensive safety check before embarking on their journeys. "Something as simple as a flat tire or cracked hose can cause unneeded delays and aggravation," Wallett said. "It’s always smart to make repairs beforehand and to pack emergency items like a blanket, flares, a flashlight and a shovel before entering the highway."

Should motorists require emergency aid while traveling the Turnpike, yellow emergency call boxes are located at one-mile intervals to enable travelers to immediately alert dispatchers in Harrisburg. Cellular phone users can also dial *11 for emergency assistance.

To provide maximum use of the highway, there will be no maintenance or construction activity on the Turnpike beginning at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 23 through 6 a.m. Monday, Jan. 3. In addition, oversized and overweight vehicles (8 feet wide, 85 feet long, 13 feet high, or 100,000 pounds gross weight) will be banned on the Turnpike. The ban is effective Dec. 24 through Dec. 26 and from Dec. 31 through Jan 2.

Because inclement weather is always a possibility, Turnpike officials advise travelers to call the customer information line (1-800-331-3414) before departure.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wishes everyone a safe and enjoyable holiday season.


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