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Road crews try to clear the way

February 17, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO AND DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

On a day like Sunday, Ed Birely, road foreman for Washington Township, Pa., said a bite to eat and a few bottles of Pepsi are all he needs to keep going.

After 29 winters, Birely is comfortable sitting in the driver's seat of one of Washington Township's five snowplows.

But with more than 12 inches of snow forecast for the Tri-State region, the weather was taking its toll on the plow drivers in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"We don't have enough manpower to go around the clock," Birely said.

It takes about five hours for the plows to clear the township roads, and by Sunday afternoon Birely said he and his crew had taken a couple of passes.

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He anticipated a three-hour break Sunday night before getting back into the plows at 1 a.m.

"The police department will monitor the roads and let us know if it gets bad or if an ambulance needs help to get by," Birely said.

Though the snowfall total was pushing 1 foot late Sunday afternoon, Birely said the storm "is not too bad."

"There was one storm I spent the night at the fire hall to run (the plow) if the ambulance squad needed to get out," he said, but could not remember what year that was.

Paul Benchoff, chairman of the Washington Township Supervisors, said he issued a snow emergency proclamation urging residents to stay off the roads in order to allow the plows to do their jobs.

"A lot of streets are not that wide, and a plow can't get by if a car is parked blocking a road," he said.

Road crews in Franklin County, Pa., were doing their best Sunday to stay ahead of the snow.

"I think things are going really well. We have everybody out there and I haven't heard about any problems," said Bill McDowell, assistant Franklin County maintenance manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

He said 42 trucks, along with about 10 loaders, were on the streets by 5 a.m. Sunday and had only stopped for a few short breaks.

"We're concentrating on the main roads and covering the back roads as we can," he said.

The road crews are responsible for 1,400 miles of roads in Franklin County including Interstate 81. Townships and boroughs are responsible for clearing their own streets.

Fulton County's PennDOT station had 25 trucks and six loaders out on the roads since about 4 a.m.

In West Virginia, a state highways official urged people to "hunker down" in their homes because it was snowing faster than plows could clear the roads.

Donnie Dillow, supervisor for the West Virginia Division of Highways office in Jefferson County, said snow plow crews were concentrating their efforts on primary roads like W.Va. 9, U.S. 340, W.Va. 51 and W.Va. 480.

Many roads in Jefferson County had not been plowed as of mid-afternoon Sunday and highway crews were plowing secondary roads as time permitted, Dillow said.

Some drivers reported dangerous driving conditions Sunday because they could not see.

"This isn't the time or the place to be out. You need to stay home, hunker down, and wait for the sun to come out," Dillow said.

In Berkeley County, highway crews would plow a road only to find it covered when they turned around to make a second pass at the road, said Dwight Wilkins, acting supervisor of the Division of Highways office on Rock Cliff Drive.

Berkeley County's primary roads were open, including W.Va. 9, W.Va. 45, W.Va. 51 and W.Va. 901, Wilkins said. Crews also were concentrating on secondary roads like W.Va. 7, Eagle School Road and Berkeley Station Road, Wilkins said.

But as in Jefferson County, some roads had not been plowed in Berkeley County because crews were concentrating on primary routes, Wilkins said.

In at least two cases Sunday, state road crews plowed roads to allow ambulances to reach patients, Wilkins said.

A separate highways crew dedicated to Interstate 81 was keeping up with the snow, a worker in the office said.

Wilkins said he felt the department's eight plows could handle the situation as long as winds did not cause significant drifting.

That could prompt highways officials to rent extra snow removal equipment to keep roads passable, Wilkins said.

Rental of snow removal equipment is not usually approved until the governor announces a state of emergency, Dillow said.

Police said traffic on roads was generally light and on I-81, traffic was mostly limited to some tractor-trailer travel.

Two tractor-trailers jackknifed on the interstate around Martinsburg, W.Va., early Sunday afternoon, said West Virginia State Police Trooper Max Kingery. But the trucks were towed quickly and caused only minimal traffic delays, Kingery said.

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