With winter storm Jonas threatening to dump more than a foot of snow on the region, drivers who can’t heed “just stay home” advice from public officials will want to know: What routes have been recently plowed?
In years past, your best bet was tuning into WHYY, waiting for John Butterworth to report on the road conditions, and hoping your preferred route got mentioned.
This year, PennDOT has a slightly more high-tech solution for you: a new snowplow tracking system.
About 700 of PennDOT’s 2,500 plow trucks have been equipped with Automated Vehicle Location equipment, which provides real-time data on a vehicle’s location, plow-route coverage and salt usage.
Two hundred of the GPS-equipped trucks are in the Greater Philadelphia region.
The pilot program is aimed at making highway snow removal more efficient. PennDOT expects to save $1.4 million over the next four to six years, because trackers help officials plot better plowing routes and use less salt.
The program began in 2015, but this year PennDOT made the tracking data accessible to the public via its traveler information website, 511PA.com, and its 511 mobile app.
The GPS-equipped plows will be used primarily on Pennsylvania’s interstates and expressways, says PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt.
“You’re not seeing the full breadth of what PennDOT is doing out there, but it is just another bit of info for you in travels.”
In addition to the major highways and interstates like the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95, PennDOT is responsible for many smaller routes, including some roads that many residents might assume the local municipality controls.
Pennsylvania is one of the first states to employ snowplow tracking systems to improve snow removal operations. But PennDOT is a little late to the plow tracker game, compared to a couple Pennsylvania cities. Pittsburgh added GPS technology to its plowing operations back in 2010 and launched a slick-looking tracking website last year.
Allentown started tracking its plows internally back in 2013, though it hasn’t launched a public website.
Philadelphia has looked into adopting the technology, but doesn’t have the upfront funding for it, Streets Department spokeswoman June Cantor said in an email. The Streets Department expects to dispatch between 300 and 350 plows this weekend, which includes trucks from other city agencies impressed into plow duties.
Keep in mind that just because a road was recently plowed, it’s not necessarily a good idea to drive, especially in a blizzard like the one predicted this weekend, said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt.
“If all the forecasts hold true, just cozy up at home.”