The snow plow attachment on one of PennDOT's Mack trucks weighs nearly 1,500 pounds and can slice open a car that strays into its path.
In a big storm, the snow sent flying by plows and the salt spewing from the backs of the trucks can dramatically reduce the plow drivers' vision, as well as that of nearby motorists.
And no duh: The condition of any road in a snowstorm is better behind a plow than ahead of it.
PennDOT put that and other information out yesterday to underscore this message as the winter season approaches: Back off.
One of the biggest problems faced by the 126 PennDOT plow drivers who work in Allegheny County is motorists who try to pass plows or follow too closely, drivers said yesterday.
When the operators set up a "plow train" -- up to five plows in an angled formation to quickly clear a highway -- some motorists will attempt to shoot through the gaps to pass them, they said.
"You cannot believe how aggressive these drivers are," said longtime operator Duke Grego.
Thanks to technology, PennDOT and drivers enter the winter season better prepared to deal with whatever falls from the sky.
The state's new 511 phone number and 511pa.com Web site will have up-to-the-minute information on road conditions, said Bob Crawford, county maintenance manager.
PennDOT now has 125 traffic cameras deployed throughout Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, a number that will grow to 185 "in the near future," he said. The camera views are available to the public at 511pa.com.
All of its trucks are now equipped to use salt brine, which can be used to pre-treat roads up to 72 hours before a storm hits.
By Thanksgiving, all trucks will have GPS devices that will allow foremen at PennDOT's seven staffed salt stockpiles to know their precise locations and quickly route them to trouble spots, Mr. Crawford said.
PennDOT has installed computerized anti-icing equipment at two sites -- an overpass on Route 28 just south of the Bakerstown interchange and the new ramps built at the Parkway West interchange with Interstate 79. The systems use sensors to detect when conditions are favorable for icing and a network of nozzles automatically sprays anti-icing agents onto the road surface.
The department hopes to install similar systems on the Parkway West near Carnegie and McKnight Road in the North Hills, Mr. Crawford said.
PennDOT has 75 snow removal routes in the county with more than 3,000 lane miles. Another 1,400 lane miles of state roads are plowed by municipalities under agreements with PennDOT.
The department will use 65 plow trucks, six anti-icing trucks and 126 drivers (with up to 30 more temporary employees) to clear 3,087 lane miles of state roads in Allegheny County. Another 1,387 lane miles of state roads are cleared by municipalities under agreements with the state.
Interstate highways get first priority for snow removal.
Jon Schmitz can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1868.