Governor Wolf: No Travel Ban, Stay off the Roads

Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration provided the following update on the winter storm across Pennsylvania and the situation on I-76 in the Somerset area:

At this time, there are over 250 first responders from state, county, and local government assisting in the evacuation of motorists on I-76. Thanks to the work of state, county, and local emergency responders, a majority of vehicles and passengers are now either moving or headed to a shelter. Between exits 127-129, traffic is moving and backlog is almost completely removed. Between exits 132-138, buses to evacuate people from the turnpike are on scene and are standing by to transport people to the shelters as needed.

"My first priority is the safely of all Pennsylvanians and we are currently using all resources available to assist any motorists that remain on I-76," said Governor Tom Wolf. "Although challenges remain, we have devoted all available resources to help motorists and clear the Turnpike in this area."

Passenger buses continue to be shoveled out, with some beginning to move off of the Turnpike. The Turnpike has deconstructed barriers in multiple locations to evacuate individuals.  Additionally, a number of freed passengers are beginning to move to the Bedford relief stations at the local high school and middle school. The shelters are open and ready to receive people.  The American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Sheetz are working to provide meals for arrivals at the shelters.

Across the commonwealth, major progress is being made and state officials and first responders are out on the roads clearing snow and ensuring the safety of all people. Additionally, the total number of power outages for the state is currently at 1,406, which are down from 4,434 at 1:00 PM earlier today.

"State officials are working around the clock in all affected areas across the commonwealth," said Governor Wolf. "We have seen great progress in clearing snow on roadways and assisting citizens and we will continue working through the night to clear roadways."

I-76 Response and Driver Checks

As westbound tractor trailers became unable to climb a hill toward the Allegheny tunnels, traffic backed up behind them. As progress was made to clear the initial stranded trucks, other trucks also became unable to go up the hill. This caused a backlog for all vehicles. Due to the backlog, emergency crews are unable to get heavy–duty tow trucks to the scene to clear the disabled trucks. The backlog also prevents Turnpike road crews from being able to clear the snow for motorists.

Plan X was instituted by PSP and the Turnpike overnight to start turning people around, and having cars exit turnpike in opposite direction. There are more than 135 first responders on the scene. Plan X is the method by which the Turnpike Commission, in emergency situations such as multiple vehicle accidents, closes certain sections of the Turnpike and reroutes traffic around the affected sections.

When the backlog was reported, PEMA contacted Somerset/Bedford emergency management to add extra resources for driver checks by first responders on ATVs. There are five fire departments, including Shanksville, Berlin, Shawnee Valley, New Baltimore, and Somerset, and Pennsylvania State Police personnel performing driver checks. Every car has been checked multiple times.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is refueling cars that are low on fuel so they can keep heat running in their cars. There is a warming shelter at the Bedford exit, with additional EMS on standby there. The National Guard, as a second responder, has been deployed with shovels, MREs, water and chains to assist with driver checks and stuck cars.

PennDOT Vehicle and Speed Restrictions
Beginning at 8:00 A.M. due to extreme winter road conditions, PennDOT is temporarily restricting certain vehicles from Interstates across the southern sections of Pennsylvania.

The purpose of the ban is to help ensure the interstates remain open during the most challenging conditions of the winter storm. When conditions improve, PennDOT will remove the travel restrictions.

“PennDOT has more than 2,200 trucks statewide to battle winter weather and many of them have been working since before the storm to treat the roads, but travel is still hazardous in many areas and should be avoided if possible,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “The high accumulations coupled with strong winds will make visibility and road conditions very difficult.”

The types of vehicles prohibited from traveling on the interstate highways in the region are:
• Empty straight trucks;
• Large Combination Vehicles (tandem trailers and doubles);
• Tractors hauling empty trailers;
• Trailers pulled by passenger vehicles;
• Motorcycles; and
• Recreational Vehicles, or RVs.

Due to the winter storm, PennDOT has temporarily reduced speeds to 45 mph on:
• Interstate 80 in Clearfield, Centre, Clinton, Union, Montour and Columbia counties.
• Interstate 95 in Delaware and Bucks counties and Philadelphia.
• Interstate 676 in Philadelphia
• Interstate 476 in Delaware and Montgomery counties
• Interstate 76 in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
• Interstate 78 in Lebanon, Berks, Lehigh and Northampton counties
• Interstate 176 in Berks County.
• Interstate 81 in Franklin, Cumberland, Dauphin, and Lebanon counties.
• Interstate 83 in York, Cumberland and Dauphin counties
• Interstate 283 in Dauphin County.
• Interstate 70 in Washington, Westmoreland, Bedford and Fulton counties
• Interstate 79 in  Greene, Washington, Allegheny and Beaver counties.
• Interstate 279 in Allegheny County
• Interstate 376 in Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties.
• Interstate 579 in Allegheny County.
• US 322 in Juniata and Mifflin counties.
• US 422 in Berks and Montgomery counties
• Route 581 in Cumberland County
• The Pennsylvania Turnpike has restricted doubles, empties and towed trailers.

With each PennDOT plow having an average of 40 miles to cover on its plow route, it takes a few hours to return to the route’s start point on interstates and expressways, or longer during heavier accumulations and on lower-traffic roadways. During periods of heavy snowfall, several inches of snow will accumulate on roads before a plow returns to clear it.

PEMA Weather Update
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency reports that winter storm conditions continue across the commonwealth this morning.  The storm system is expected to remain particularly intense with snowfall rates of 1-2” per hour through midday before tapering a bit by early afternoon.  A sharp cutoff in snow continues around the I-80 corridor.  Snow should exit the Commonwealth by late Saturday evening.  Colder air has produced a more powdery snow, which will combine with winds to produce blowing snow hazards that will continue well after midnight.  Snow totals around two feet or more remain possible south of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The winter storm’s high winds and snowfall rates pose potential risks beyond travel, and PEMA has been working around the clock to assist local emergency management agencies, other state agencies and law enforcement.

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