Trucking Companies Question Pennsylvania Travel Ban Citations

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

DUNMORE, Pa. — State police issued more than 800 citations statewide to drivers violating the commercial vehicle ban during the Feb. 12 winter storm. Troopers say they were strongly enforcing the ban as a way to prevent crashes and keep highways clear.

State police also issued dozens of warnings for violating the truck ban. Area trucking companies and those who have fleets of commercial vehicles are counting their losses. They call PennDOT’s truck ban from area interstates during the Feb. 12 snow and ice storm “unnecessary and overcautious.” Truckers say past bans on trucks and buses from interstates during major winter storms made sense, but they claim the storm did not have enough snow to justify the commercial vehicle ban.

The morning after the ban, crews at Dempsey Uniform and Linen in Jessup loaded almost every available truck and dispatched them to customers all over the Northeast. Laundry workers inside were on overtime to get items such as tablecloths ready for restaurants on Valentine’s Day.

The Feb. 12 truck ban set the business back a day. “Safety always comes first, and we wouldn’t put our employees in harm’s way,” said P.J. Dempsey, president of the family business. Dempsey claims Feb. 12 was a day of moderate snowfall. “Winter weather is part of living here. I don’t think we expected 2 or 3 inches of snow — even if there’s some sleet or freezing rain — to shut down the highways for anybody, never mind just trucks.”

Ron Bartoli drives for Calex Trucking. “I would have been fine driving,” he said. “Most of us drivers have driven in far worse conditions.”

Calex Trucking President Doug Barbacci said, “We don’t know if this is the new norm,” “If we start having a truck restriction for an inch or 4 inches of snow, that’s going to happen numerous times throughout the winter.”

The ban sidelined dozens of Barbacci’s trucks coming in from other states with everything from home supplies to fresh produce. He says compared with other states, Pennsylvania may soon have the most restrictive ground rules for banning trucks in winter.

“If every state shut down for 4 inches of snow, we would be stuck all over the country all of the time, and that’s not the case.”

PennDOT spokesman James May said the ban wasn’t about snowfall. “Freezing rain is by far the most difficult condition to deal with,” he said.

May said PennDOT officials used a radar image of freezing rain covering much of northeastern and central Pennsylvania to show why it kept the ban active most of the day.

May said a picture of a trucker who violated the ban and skidded off Interstate 81 may show what happens when freezing rain falls.

“When it comes down as rain, it washes away any of the salt or the brine that’s on the road. And then once it hits the ground, it turns into ice,” he said.

May said PennDOT will review its decisions during this week’s activity as it does with every storm.

Trucking company leaders are calling state lawmakers to tell them the ban likely cost the region hundreds of thousands of dollars on a day they believed their rigs could have trucked to their destinations safely.

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