HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - This week, officials from PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission outlined different ways to stay safe on the roads this winter. 

"While clearing snow and making our roads drivable as soon as possible after a winter storm is a top concern, safety will always be PennDOT’s highest priority,” said Mike Keiser, the Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration at PennDOT. “For the safety of all motors, we encourage drivers to always follow the speed limit, especially when speeds are lower due to winter weather conditions,” he added. 

With 96,000 snow lane miles that required over 800,000 tons of salt last year, winter preparation is a year-round effort for PennDOT.  

“Winter is a huge responsibility,” said Keiser. 

Preliminary statewide data show last winter there were 266 crashes on snowy or icy roadways as a result of speeding or reckless driving. Officials are giving advanced warning to drive safe this winter as they prepare to keep roadways safe and clear. One of the most important things drivers can do is maintain a safe distance from active snow plows and never pass them during a storm. 

"One thing I can guarantee everybody out there is that the conditions in front of that plow are worse than they are behind it,” said Craig Shuey, Chief Operating Officer for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. “Those folks are working very hard, many long hours to clear the roadway for you but they can't do it if you're attempting to pass them in a dangerous situation. If you're weaving in between plow train operations, trying to get ahead of that plow train, you create situations for yourself, for those plow operators and for other drivers that create crashes every year,” Shuey added. 

This year, PennDOT will be expanding a pilot program using variable message signs to quickly reduce speed limits when road conditions call for it.  

“Preliminary results show that when needed, this low cost, innovative solution effectively slowed traffic and reduced or eliminated crashes,” said Keiser. “This year, the program will expand to 63 locations. Along the I-83 corridor, it'll be in Clearfield, Clarion, Jefferson and Clinton counties. Along I-81, you'll see them in Luzerne, Schuylkill and Lebanon counties. VLS's will also be used at or near existing permanent speed limits signs between now and April 2023,” Keiser added. 

Officials advised drivers to carry things like winter clothing, medication, food and other necessities while traveling during a snowstorm and to make sure vehicles are prepared with snow tires, windshield washer fluid and more.  

“All those things that will make it easier for you to travel whenever the weather gets bad,” said Shuey. 

Both PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission are feeling the effects of the current labor shortage. They're looking for part-time and full-time equipment operators, diesel mechanics, welders and more. They encourage anybody interested to apply.  

As far as what the labor shortage means for getting roads cleared, PennDOT says they have a gameplan to prioritize roadways with more traffic. 

“If we have a longer duration storm, that's where we’ve got to be a little bit careful. We'll start to pull those operators off those lower volume back roadways to make sure we keep our main roads clear and passable,” said Keiser. 

Officials say real-time road conditions, including when a highway was last plowed, can be found using the 511 PA mobile app.