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February 10, 2016

PA Turnpike Releases Initial Findings of After-Action Review of Blizzard 

Phase I indicates a series of events led to incident on the mountain, that plow crews were active.


MIDDLETOWN PA. (FEB. 10, 2016) — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced today that it has completed the initial phase of its After-Action Review (AAR) of last month’s blizzard. The first phase of the two-phase AAR began Jan. 25 and ended Feb. 8. It involved gathering information essential to formulate a clearer understanding of the sequence of events, decisions made and actions taken during Winter Storm Jonas.

“I can assure you that we made every effort, summoned every available resource and took every step possible to keep travelers safe,” said PA Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan. “And we are grateful that there were no fatalities and no serious injuries. Still, we know we can do more to make sure we are better prepared for the next major event.”

One of the key Phase I findings is that there was not one but a series of incidents — coupled with historic snowfall —that ultimately contributed to the scope and duration of the emergency:

  • At 5:21 p.m. on Jan. 22, the PA Turnpike Traffic Operations Center (TOC) was notified of a single-vehicle accident involving a tractor trailer carrying bulk chocolate leaving the roadway and blocking lanes at milepost 155.5 westbound. It took an hour 50 minutes to clear the incident scene; during that time 5.6 miles of backlog developed.

  • At 7:40 p.m. on Jan. 22, the TOC was notified that two or three tractor trailers were struggling to ascend the eastern slope of the Allegheny Mountain at milepost 123 westbound; for some time, plow teams were able to keep a single lane open and traffic was getting past the scene. By 8:55 p.m. on Jan. 22, snow accumulations and gathering cars and trucks made it increasingly difficult to navigate the terrain, and about three miles of backlog formed. This backlog was made worse by the release of 5.6 miles of backlog from the milepost 155.5 incident.

  • At 9:07 p.m. on Jan. 22, the TOC was notified that Kegg Maintenance crews stopped traffic at milepost 132.2 westbound as part of a construction-project traffic plan to prevent additional westbound vehicles from entering the construction zone at milepost 129, and a 7.0-mile backlog developed. This backlog was also worsened by the release of 5.6 miles of backlog from the milepost 155.5 incident.

    Phase-I analysis also indicates that equipment operators from the PA Turnpike’s regional maintenance forces were patrolling in plow/salt trucks beginning at 7 a.m. on Jan. 22. They began treating the roadway (spreading salt and other deicing materials) in the impacted area by 3:30 p.m. Crews began team plowing at 4 p.m. on Jan. 22 followed by running plow trains (four trucks in a staggered formation) at 7:55 p.m. on Jan. 22.

    PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton explained that the decision to not detour traffic off the Turnpike was influenced by the fact that conditions on alternative routes were also impacted by the blizzard.

    “The decision was made at the scene that motorists, given the alternatives, were safer on our system than they would have been if we moved them off of the Turnpike. It is important to consider the conditions on secondary roads and in the communities where this additional traffic would have been diverted,” said Compton. “Having these motorists essentially shelter in place was the best option. Obviously, we cannot have customers stranded for such an extended period of time. As part of our review, we are focused on identifying ways to ensure we have enough people and equipment where we need them before the next event.”

    The purpose of the AAR is to identify what worked and what didn’t work and to improve operations and response where applicable. The AAR Team is directed by CEO Compton with coordination by the Turnpike’s general consulting engineering firm, Michael Baker International Inc.

    “The PA Turnpike routinely utilizes a collaborative After Action Review to engage and communicate with partners to obtain the feedback to improve and strengthen our Traffic Incident Management program, which helps us provide a safer highway and identify future training, policy and operational needs,” Compton said. “The process focuses on lessons learned, best practices and opportunities for improvement; it affords us and our response partners to review the quality of services provided to customers at the scene.”

    As part of Phase I, the AAR Team met with the three maintenance sheds involved in the storm from start to finish, including Everett Maintenance, Kegg Maintenance and Somerset Maintenance. Altogether these maintenance locations employ more than 90 personnel. These sessions involved a thorough discussion about preparations, actions taken and a review of the timeline pertaining to the maintenance response. The AAR Team also conducted 10 fact-finding meetings with dozens of representatives from other key internal departments: Traffic Engineering and Operations; Fare Collections; the senior executive team; PA State Police Troop T; and PennDOT personnel assisting during Winter Storm Jonas.

    Phase II began on Feb. 8. Earlier this week, the AAR Team started meeting with participating federal, state and local agencies, examining the decisions made and actions taken before, during and after the event. The Commission expects to conclude the AAR in early March. A report will be made public after the AAR Team completes, and the Commission approves, the review.