Pennsylvania will test new travel restrictions this winter

Winter is coming, and that can mean significant highway closures due to inclement weather. Pennsylvania is taking action with new policies that will place travel restrictions on trucks first.

In October, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania released the final draft of its inclement winter weather travel restriction and ban framework. Coordinating state agencies include the Emergency Management Agency, State Police, Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

As needed, PennDOT will coordinate speed restrictions on the interstates.

According to the framework, when speed restrictions are in place for inclement weather, a right-lane-only restriction also will be imposed for commercial vehicles.

Passenger vehicles towing trailers, including enclosed cargo trailers, open cargo trailers, vehicle trailers, recreational vehicle travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers, will also be restricted to the right lane.

That will be the first phase of any potential closures. From there, further restrictions and bans will be placed incrementally using a five-phase approach based on vehicle type:

  1. Unloaded and lightly loaded trucks (one-third of gross vehicle weight rating), passenger vehicles towing trailers, recreational vehicles, buses and motorcycles.
  2. Trucks towing loaded tandem trailers.
  3. All loaded trucks except for those carrying full coverage tire chains for at least two drive wheels or those with approved alternate traction devices.
  4. Every truck regardless of loading or availability of tire chains, i.e., complete truck ban.
  5. All passenger vehicles.

Unless otherwise noted, there are some exemptions for commercial vehicles. However, they are mostly for utility vehicles, emergency vehicles, tow trucks and salt delivery vehicles. Truckers hauling liquid fuels for emergency deliveries also are exempt.

When a travel ban lasts longer than 24 hours, PennDOT will consider additional exemptions. Those will mostly include bulk liquid fuels delivery to support critical infrastructure and the transport of other critical commodities.

Once a travel restriction or ban has been placed, roadway conditions will be evaluated every two to four hours, possibly sooner depending on weather conditions.

According to PennDOT spokeswoman Alexis Campbell, the framework is not set in stone.

“It will remain in draft format until we see how the procedures work for this winter weather season,” Campbell told Land Line. “The draft can be updated as necessary if needed as we look at incident statistics and data after each incident.”