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Road crews prepared for storm

January 27, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA. -- Dennis Benshoff gives up sleep so morning commuters can rest easier.

When snow is in the forecast, Benshoff - the Borough of Waynesboro's maintenance supervisor - wakes almost every hour to check whether the precipitation has actually arrived. And once it does, he's off to the salt shed so snowplows can get onto the most traveled streets before passenger vehicles do.

"When they call for snow, you don't sleep well that night," he said.

Plows and anti-skid materials were on Waynesboro roads shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday. Another 150 tons of anti-skid were prepared for the snow and ice predicted to start Tuesday evening.

"If we know it's going to happen, we'll load the trucks before we leave for the day," said Bob Wagner, director of public works in Chambersburg, Pa., borough.

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When roads start to become slippery in Chambersburg, the local police call a 24-hour dispatch service that alerts a roads crew supervisor. The borough, which has five spreading trucks, doesn't plow until 4 inches of snow has fallen.

Washington Township, Pa., police in southern Franklin County also take much of the responsibility for identifying troublesome roads overnight. They call a county dispatcher, who in turn contacts road foreman Ed Birely.

For the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, roads crews work 12 hours, rest 12 hours and work 12 hours during times of inclement weather. Franklin County's office has been staffed 24 hours a day since 4 a.m. Monday, and employees are already thinking about the end of the storm - when they encounter downed trees and limbs.

"We're already planning on that," said Kris Feldmeyer, assistant county manager for PennDOT.

At least one person with the local PennDOT office monitors the phone, computer and radio.

"They're tied in with our folks in Harrisburg (Pa.)," he said.

PennDOT first worries about Interstate 81, then tackles some of its other major roads like U.S. 30. Feldmeyer said crews go out at the first precipitation and work extra hard if there's ice.

"When you have ice, you have to continually stay at it," he said.

They have 35 of their own trucks available, as well as six trucks from subcontractors on call.

The Quincy Township, Pa., roads supervisor, Kerry Bumbaugh, calls the Waynesboro Area School District superintendent when he first notices slick conditions in South Mountain, Pa. Superintendent James Robertson uses that information - coupled with information from employees who test the roads - to decide whether to delay or cancel school.

Since the decision changed later than normal Tuesday, Robertson used the School Messenger system to deliver a message to parents, rather than asking them to check local media outlets or the district's Web site.

"I decided to do that because we went from a two-hour delay to a closure," he said.

Robertson said he likes to make the decision before 5:30 a.m. so parents can make alternative arrangements for child care if necessary.

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