Motorists advised to limit travel, watch for changing conditions during Christmas Eve winter storm

In anticipation of winter storm conditions, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is advising motorists to avoid all unnecessary travel during the storm and are anticipating that restrictions on trucks and other vehicles will be imposed on certain roadways around the state, and will remain in place until conditions warrant their removal.

Effective 3:00 PM on Thursday, December 24, vehicle restrictions will be implemented reflecting Level 1 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan on the following roadways:

  • The entire length Interstate 90; and
  • Interstate 79 from Interstate 80 to Interstate 90.

Effective 7:00 PM on Thursday, December 24, vehicle restrictions will be implemented reflecting Level 1 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan on Interstate 376 westbound from Interstate 279 (Fort Pitt Tunnel) to Interstate 79.

Under Level 1 restrictions, the following vehicles are not permitted on affected roadways:

  • Tractors without trailers;
  • Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded enclosed trailers, open trailers or tank trailers;
  • Tractors towing unloaded or lightly loaded tandem trailers;
  • Enclosed cargo delivery trucks that meet the definition of a CMV;
  • Passenger vehicles (cars, SUV’s, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers;
  • Recreational vehicles/motorhomes;
  • School buses, commercial buses and motor coaches; and
  • Motorcycles.

Effective 4:00 PM on Thursday, December 24, vehicle restrictions reflecting Level 3 of the commonwealth’s weather event vehicle restriction plan will be implemented on the entire length of Interstate 90.

On roadways with Level 3 restrictions in place, no commercial vehicles are permitted EXCEPT loaded single trailers with chains or approved Alternate Traction Devices. Additionally, all school buses, commercial buses, motor coaches, motorcycles, RVs/motorhomes and passenger vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, etc.) towing trailers are not permitted on affected roadways while restrictions are in place.

Speed limits would be restricted to 45 mph on these roadways for all vehicles while restrictions are in place, and commercial vehicles not affected by the restrictions must move to the right lane. Additional speed restrictions on other interstates could be added depending on changing conditions.

Restrictions will be communicated via variable message boards, the 511PA traveler information website at www.511pa.com and smartphone apps. Motorists can also sign up for alerts on www.511pa.com by clicking on “Personal Alerts” in the left-hand menu.

Weather conditions will be varied across the state, and PennDOT urges motorists to avoid travel if possible. But if travel is necessary, use caution, reduce speeds and be aware of changing weather conditions. Additionally, motorists are reminded that roadways will not be free of snow while precipitation is falling. With freezing temperatures, roads that look wet may actually be icy, and extra caution is needed when approaching bridges and highway ramps where ice can form without warning.

To help make decisions regarding winter travel, motorists are encouraged to “Know Before You Go” by checking conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 1,000 traffic cameras. Users can also see plow truck statuses and travel alerts along a specific route using the “Check My Route” tool.

511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.

Drivers should prepare or restock their emergency kits with items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger and a small snow shovel. Motorists should tailor their kits to any specific needs that they or their families have such as baby supplies, extra medication and pet supplies.

When winter weather occurs, drivers should extra cautious around operating snow-removal equipment. When encountering a plow truck, drivers should:

  • Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow truck and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck.
  • Be alert since plow trucks generally travel much more slowly than other traffic.
  • When a plow truck is traveling toward you, move as far away from the center of the road as is safely possible, and remember that snow can obscure the actual snow plow width.
  • Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for nearby vehicles.
  • Never travel next to a plow truck since there are blind spots where the operator can’t see, and they can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or heavy snowpack.
  • Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Also remember that under Pennsylvania state law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.

In addition to driving safely around plows, motorists are urged to drive according to conditions. 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 that there were 151 crashes resulting in three fatalities and 81 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.

For more information on safe winter travel, an emergency kit checklist and information on PennDOT’s winter operations including a video, visit www.PennDOT.gov/winter. Additional winter driving and other highway safety information is available at www.PennDOT.gov/safety.

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