Ready for winter

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:02

MILFORD - PennDOT says it’s ready for winter and raring to go, but some county officials say recent experiences leave them in doubt. “...With more than 40,000 miles of state-maintained roads in Pennsylvania, we are always prepared for the worst winter conditions, even early-season storms,” PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E., said in state press release on Oct. 26. The agency has some impressive numbers. “With a budget of about $175 million, PennDOT’s 5,000 crewmembers will work with more than 2,200 snowplows, 520 front-end loaders and 120 anti-icing trucks to make travel safer during winter weather,” the agency stated. Noting the continuing presence of a PennDOT highway sign near their Milford garage, soliciting drivers and mechanics, Pike County Commissioner Richard Caridi was skeptical about claims of readiness.“That’s smoke and mirrors,” he said earlier this week. Caridi had a very public disagreement with a regional PennDOT official this spring when he challenged the agency’s winter staffing claims in Pike County. While he made no retraction, Caridi was hesitant about renewing the disagreement. “We’re trying to get along with these people,” he said. The county’s emergency management Director Roger Maltby said PennDOT’s own statistics show the decreased service. He’s kept track of the last three years worth of numbers of full-time drivers, managers, foremen and mechanics. On the increase is the number of temporary drivers, “but they never are able to fill those positions,” Maltby said. He says the problem is especially bad during ice storm conditions, when there have been instances when schools were unable to dismiss students and secondary roads and portions of interstate I-84 have become parking lots. He claimed that the agency’s slow response has been especially hard on local volunteer firefighters, who have been forced to maintain road closures for hours in bad weather, awaiting the arrival of PennDOT crews. Local officials in past have charged that reduced PennDOT services in rural areas have resulted from the Rendell administration’s re-direction of state assets toward the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Governor Rendell is a Democrat and Northeastern Pennsylvania is a Republican stronghold. PennDOT spokespeople have repeately denied charges of regional favoritism. But returning to PennDOT’s October statement, some qualifications appear when you read further. “PennDOT provides its highest level of winter service on the interstate system and other primary routes. Motorists are reminded that during more significant winter storms, higher accumulations of snow on secondary roads are not uncommon since road crews are focused on clearing and maintaining major routes. “Since salt requires higher traffic volumes to work effectively, PennDOT will often use a higher ratio of anti-skid materials, such as sand or crushed stone, on secondary roads to help provide traction.” PennDOT maintains a toll-free number, 888-783-6783, which doubles seasonally as a Road Construction Hotline and a Winter Road Conditions. PennDOT District 4.0 also seasonally provides a webpage for winter road conditions.