by Jonathan Weaver
National forecasters are predicting more snowfall to impact Western Pennsylvania in the upcoming months, but local PennDOT crews are prepared.
With rain falling outside and temperatures falling into normal Fall-like averages on Friday, District 10 County Maintenance Manager Andy Firment detailed Armstrong County’s winter plan for snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
Firment, of Rural Valley, said there are seven stockpiles of trucks and road mixtures throughout the county –from the largest in Kittanning Township (seven trucks) to the smallest in Cowansville, Distant and Crooked Creek (three trucks each).
While each is responsible for about 45 snow lane miles and Armstrong County’s 72 drivers are responsible to clear Route 28 to the Allegheny County line, Firment said northern roadways can become the trickiest to treat.
“Armstrong County’s very unique – if you look at the demographics of the county, you see a lot of hills, windy roads and valleys because of water. One of our areas of concern that we put a lot of emphasis on is (Route) 422, from (Kittanning) to Indiana county line,” Firment said.
Firment explained tractor trailers on that section of highway – such as in Margaret Dip – that aren’t used to severe winter weather could cause longer backups as they jackknife and slide.
“The hills are the biggest issues that we have,” Firment said. “Now, we have been addressing some of that through construction projects (such as the former-Theatre Road realignment project in Kittanning Township). All of the projects that we’re doing are deisgned to do a couple things: improve the reliability of the road, improve the safety of the road and keep the water off the roadway.”
“Our operators know those (problem) areas, and we will increase our application in those routes, and as long as conditions warrant, we’ll try to get out prior and apply some anti icing (salt water).”
Another of those projects will be let this Fall along Wray Plan Road to straighten the roadway.
While Firment sympathized with local motorists, he urged them to base winter travel in hazardous conditions based on priority and not to try and pass plow vehicles – which usually travel at 25 miles per hour.
“Everybody has to make their own decision on when they want to travel, but we do need to caution people, (PennDOT) cannot stop the snow from hitting the ground. It’s going to hit the ground and snow is going to build up on the road,” Firment said. “We will be plowing and applying anti-icing material, such as salt and anti-skid, to the roadway and allowing that material to work on the roadway so that we can keep (roads) as safe and passable as possible.
“If you choose to go around us, understand that you’re probably going to be driving into conditions worse than what you were currently on.”
PennDOT Mechanic Supervisor Les Fiscus reaffirmed all vehicles passed inspection Friday. About a dozen mechanics certified the vehicles.
“Everything passed – we had no deadlinable items. If a vehicle is not up to par for winter operations, it can’t go out on the road (but) we had none that failed,” Fiscus said.
PennDOT Diesel Mechanic Corey McCluskey, of Clarion, drove three miles before coming to Armstrong County. He recalled it being “a challenge” plowing and driving in winter weather, but still enjoyed it.
“If I could be a mechanic in the summer and plow in the winter, I’d do that,” McCluskey said.
McCluskey said spreader wiring and hydraulic hoses will always break down in the winter weather, but trucks are usually repaired within a day – sometimes in the same day.
It took District 10 two weeks to prepare for winter. Winter inspection was complete by noon Friday.
Starting the second week of November, radio operators are available to aid local bus companies and school districts with local weather conditions.