Meadville Tribune

November 22, 2013

PennDOT calls in 'Plowzilla' to take on Ol' Man Winter

Huge new tow plow to be used for clearing snow and ice off Interstate 79 and portions of Route 6/322 in Crawford County.

By Keith Gushard
The Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — Drivers need to be aware of and avoid getting too close to a huge new tool used for clearing snow and ice off Interstate 79 and portions of Route 6/322 in Crawford County.

A 30-foot tow plow has been delivered to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Crawford County Maintenance Office in Vernon Township for use on the interstate between Meadville and Edinboro and Route 6/322 between Meadville and Conneaut Lake.

The over-sized plow may be deployed as soon as Saturday if winter storm predictions come true, according to Jim Hepler, PennDOT’s maintenance manager for Crawford County.

A tow plow is a snowplow pulled behind a PennDOT truck that’s equipped with a front-mounted snow plow. When activated, the tow plow “steers” out and angles into the right lane to allow one truck to clear two 12-foot traffic lanes with one pass.

Its wide size makes it ideal for clearing snow from an interstate or similar multiple-lane highway like Route 6/322 between Meadville and Conneaut Lake.

“Being able to clean two lanes at once should reduce our fuel costs and give us better efficiency,” Hepler said.

But the plow’s sheer size means motorists need to use extreme caution, Hepler said.

“It’s a safety issue for us as well as for other drivers because they’re not going to be able to pass it because it is so wide,” Hepler said. “Drivers will need to slow down.”

When it deploys at an angle behind the truck, the 30-foot long tow plow gives a typical plow truck a 24-foot plowing width, enough to clear two 12-foot traffic lanes at once, Hepler said. It also is equipped with two 1,000-gallon tanks for spreading brine to melt snow and ice.

There are safety lights on the back of the tow plow as well as a blinking beacon light on it to warn approaching motorists, Hepler said.

Two PennDOT workers assigned to drive the tow plow — Richard Baker and Rusty Custard — are excited to put it to use, but they will be cautious as well.

“It’s big — people just need to give us enough room and not pass,” said Baker, a 14-year veteran plow driver.

“I drove with it up to Edinboro, but the real test will be in the snow,” said Custard, who has driven for PennDOT for more than 24 years. “I worry about who may come up behind us.”

William Petit, head of PennDOT’s District 1, which includes Crawford County, is urging motorists to give all snow plows room to operate and never try to pass a plow truck or group of plow trucks.

“Plow drivers have an enormous responsibility,” Petit said. “They have a difficult job and often work in conditions with limited, sometimes near-zero visibility.”

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

Did you know?

A tow plow typically costs between $99,000 and $106,000, depending upon equipment, according the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Driving tips around snow plows

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reminds motorists to follow this list of safety tips when they encounter a plow truck on the highway.

Stay back: Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck. Wing plows, which are located on the sides of the truck, are generally 10 feet wide.

Remain alert: Snowplows generally travel much slower than other traffic and may at times be completely obscured due to blowing snow or heavy snowfall rates. This is especially true in open areas where high winds can create zero visibility without warning.

Move over: When approaching a snowplow head-on, move as far away from the centerline of the road as is safely possible and remember snow spray can obscure the actual snowplow width.

Never pass: Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for all nearby vehicles.

Don’t drive in the snowplow “no zone”: Never travel next to a snowplow as there are blind spots where the operator can’t see. Also, plow trucks can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or cutting through heavy snowpack.

Headlights on: Keep headlights on when driving near snowplows to help the plow operator better see your vehicle. Remember that under Pennsylvania law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.