Last week, State Transportation Secretary Barry J. Schoch and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's Chief Operating Officer Craig R. Shuey unveiled their latest weapon in their battle against winter weather – a 30-foot-long, tow-behind snowplow.
According to a release issued by PennDOT, the department and the Turnpike will use the new tow plows on major roadways this winter. Because of their size, the tow plows are only used on limited-access roadways like the Turnpike, interstates or other multi-lane roads.
"Used on multi-lane highways, a tow plow allows one truck to do the work of two," Schoch said. "By freeing up a truck and operator, we'll be better able to focus on lower-priority roads that normally would not receive as high a level of service until major routes are cleared."
PennDOT tested the tow plow two years ago on Interstate 99 in Centre County
and last year added tow plows in Allegheny, Berks and Lackawanna counties. This winter, PennDOT expects to have tow plows operating in Montgomery, Perry, Cambria and Schuylkill counties. The department plans to have at least one tow plow operating in each of its 11 engineering districts by next winter. The
Pennsylvania Turnpike expects to have four tow plows in service this
"We've been working closely with PennDOT on expanding this technology to the Turnpike," Shuey said. "We strive to provide exceptional winter service on the Turnpike and the tow plow will be a welcome asset that enhances our operations."
PennDOT and Turnpike plow trucks are normally equipped with a 10- or 12-foot wide front plow. PennDOT trucks and some Turnpike trucks are also equipped with a wing plow (a plow attached to the side of the truck) that increases total plowing width to about 16 to 18 feet. A tow plow increases the plowing width to 24 feet, allowing for two, 12-foot-wide lanes to be cleared at once.
As the name implies, tow plows are towed behind a conventional plow truck equipped with a front plow. When plowing snow, the tow plow "steers" out into the right lane, allowing the truck to clear both lanes simultaneously.
The tow plow costs between $99,000 and $106,000 based on equipment. A
typical, tandem-axle PennDOT truck costs nearly $175,000.
Schoch and Shuey strongly urged motorists to give plow truck drivers extra room and to never try to pass a plow truck or group of trucks.
"Plow operators have an enormous responsibility – they are out there during peak traffic volume, keeping an eye out for motorists and obstacles, monitoring salt spreading and in many cases driving in near-zero visibility," Schoch said.
"That's why it's so important that motorists give all plow operators the
extra space they need to do their jobs effectively. It's challenging enough
without having to deal with impatient or unsafe motorists."
When encountering a plow truck, drivers should follow these safety tips:
- Stay Back: Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck. Wing plows, which are located on the sides of the truck, are generally 10 feet wide.
- Remain Alert: Snowplows generally travel much more slowly than other traffic and may at times be completely obscured due to blowing snow or heavy snowfall rates. This is especially true in open areas where high winds can create zero visibility without warning.
- Move Over: Move as far away from the centerline of the road as is safely possible when approaching a snowplow head-on, and remember that snow spray can obscure the actual snowplow width.
- Never Pass: 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 all nearby vehicles.
- Don't Drive in the Snow Plow "No Zone": Never travel next to a snowplow since there are blind spots where the operator can't see. Also, plow trucks can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or cutting through heavy snowpack.
- Headlights On: Keep your lights on when driving near snowplows 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.