Hurricane Sandy: Highway Travel Restrictions Take Effect

Beginning at 10:00am on Monday, PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is temporarily reducing the speed limits on some southeast PA roadways.

The move is in response to the high winds and other dangerous conditions associated with Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm which is nearing landfall in New Jersey. Officials are urging motorists to avoid any unnecessary travel, but those who do have to be on the roads will be subject to a reduced 45 MPH speed limit.

That reduction includes traffic on the following roadways:

  • Interstate 76 in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties;
  • Interstate 95 in Philadelphia, Bucks and Delaware counties;
  • Interstate 476 in Delaware and Montgomery counties;
  • Interstate 676 in Philadelphia;
  • Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bucks, Chester and Montgomery counties;
  • U.S. Route 1 Extension in Philadelphia;
  • U.S. Route 1 in Bucks, Philadelphia, Delaware and Chester counties;
  • U.S. Route 30 Bypass in Chester County;
  • Route 63 (Woodhaven Expressway) in Philadelphia;
  • U.S. Route 202 in Chester County;
  • Route 309 in Bucks and Montgomery counties;
  • U.S. Route 422 in Montgomery County; and
  • Route 611 Bypass in Bucks County.

Today’s order also includes a restriction on the following types of vehicles on these highways:

  • Class 9 vehicles (Overweight and over-dimensional trucks);
  • Empty straight trucks;
  • Large Combination Vehicles (tandem trailers and doubles);
  • Tractors hauling empty trailers;
  • Trailers pulled by passenger vehicles;
  • Motorcycles;
  • Recreational Vehicles, or RVs.

Vehicles in these classifications should pull over to a safe area and wait for the restriction to be lifted. These restrictions may be expanded to other parts of the state as Sandy starts its move inland.


A More Efficient PennDOT

The state Department of Transportation is looking to streamline and modernize through a new initiative called PennDOT Next Generation.  “We’re going to continue to look department-by-department to make sure we’re not spending the same dollar twice, and see if we can go across agency lines to reduce costs,” PennDOT Secretary Barr Schoch explained to the House and Senate Transportation Committees.  

Schoch says four initial pilot projects will produce annual savings of $7-million.  30-current projects could save the state anywhere from $25 – $75-million a year.  

Barry Schoch

Some of the projects already saving money include an electronic permitting system for Highway Occupancy Permits and a revised bridge inspection policy.  Current projects are investigating more efficient use of winter materials and the regionalization of transit providers.  

The administrative savings may be a drop in the bucket compared to the state’s $3.5-billion dollar annual transportation funding gap, but House Transportation Chair Rick Geist (R-Blair) tells reporters it’s important.  “I think it’s wonderful when it comes to the bureaucratic inspection and self-inspection of how to do things better,” Geist explains.  

Geist is calling for legislation to move all transportation functions under PennDOT and out of other agencies.  “We have stuff that’s all over state government,” he explains.  

Lawmakers will be receiving a summary report of PennDOT Next Generation at the end of the year, and it will include a series of legislative recommendations.

State Taking More Steps to Ease Voter ID Card Process

As Commonwealth Court takes another look at the Voter ID law, directed by the state Supreme Court to review availability, officials have announced a new step to streamline the process of getting an ID before Election Day.  They say it should only require one trip to a PennDOT licensing center.

Pennsylvania Department of State spokesman Ron Ruman says registered voters will have the option of getting a voting only ID card, even if they would qualify for a secure PennDOT ID. He says there’s a lesser level of identification to get the DOS ID.  He says all the registered voter needs to do is provide a name, date of birth and Social Security number.

Ruman says if there is a problem verifying that information; the department will reconcile that issue and mail the ID to the voter.  He says if issues remain, voters should call 1-877-VOTES-PA.

Ruman says the change is in response to the court review of the law. He says the state Supreme Court called into question whether requiring people to go through the process to see if they qualified for a secure PennDOT ID before they were offered the Department of State Voter ID card was consistent with the General Assembly’s intent to provide liberal access to a voter ID card.  He says they have been making adjustments as the law is being implemented.

Ruman adds that the Department of State card is only good for voting while the PennDOT card can also be used for things like boarding a plane, cashing a check or any other reason that you’d need an ID.

Voter ID Arguments to be Heard in Commonwealth Court

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law are asking the Commonwealth Court to block enforcement before the November election.  “Article 1, section 5 of Pennsylvania’s constitution guarantees that elections shall be free and equal,” says Marian Schneider of the Advancement Project.

The petitioners contend that one million Pennsylvanians are eligible to vote but lack the photo ID required under Pennsylvania’s new law.  “If you’ve listed to the proponents of the law… you would have the impression that everyone either has photo ID or they can easily get it.  Their message is that photo ID is used for everything, what’s the big deal,” says attorney David Gersch.  “It is a big deal.”

The hearing before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson starts Wednesday morning, and is expected to continue through most of next week.

Despite critics’ complaints, state officials are standing by the new law.  “Really for this size issue in Pennsylvania, I think the challenges we’re facing are relatively small,” Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele told reporters in Gettysburg last week.  She was responding to questions about the more than 750,000 registered voters that aren’t already in the PennDOT database.

Letters are going out to every one of them, reminding them of the new law and the complete list of acceptable IDs.  The Department of State has also announced the creation of a new card that can be issued to voters who need identification under the law, and who are unable to provide all the documents they would normally need to obtain a PennDOT ID.

But it’s not enough to assuage the hundreds of protesters who gathered on the state capitol steps Tuesday. Their rally cry: “Voter ID, Not for Me.”  Among the speakers was Sen. Daylin Leach, who says that even the Commonwealth’s lawyers agree there’s no evidence of in-person voter fraud.

“This bill was passed under false pretenses.  That’s why I’ve introduced a bill to repeal the Voter ID bill,” Leach announced to a round of applause at Tuesday’s rally.  Additional rallies are planned in Pittsburgh, Allentown and Philly on Wednesday.

PennDOT says “Just Drive”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation  has launched a new effort to highlight safety for National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  It’s a simple message, “Just Drive”.

Spokeswoman Erin Waters says drivers need to focus on the task at hand.  She says your only responsibility while driving, is to focus on driving.  

Waters says they want people to consider they have their own life and the lives of people around them in their hands.

It’s not only a slogan; it’s also a web Waters says it has resources for drivers and information on distracted driving.  According to estimates for 2011, more than 14 thousand crashes in Pennsylvania involved a distracted driver, resulting in 58 fatalities.

Waters says drivers also need to wear their seatbelts, not drive impaired and look out for pedestrians, motorcycles and all other vehicles.

New Policy May Ease Compliance with Voter ID Law

The Department of State estimates that 99% of eligible voters already have an acceptable form of photo ID under Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law, and they’re simplifying the process for many of the rest. 

Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele announced a new policy, Wednesday, which will allow eligible voters with an expired driver’s license to obtain a new non-driver photo ID without having to produce a birth certificate or other proof of identification. 

Secretary Carol Aichele

The theory is that if you have an expired license, you’re already PennDOT’s system, and you’ve already produced proof of ID.  “You don’t even need to produce your expired license.  You just need to give your name to the PennDOT customer service representative and they will locate your information from the database,” Secretary Aichele explained at a capitol news conference.      

Aichele believes this will be especially beneficial for senior citizens who no longer drive.  The new process also applies to expired non-driver photo IDs.    

Next Tuesday’s primary election will mark the “soft roll-out” of the Voter ID law, which means voters will be requested to produce a photo ID – but it will not be required.  “Voters not showing acceptable ID will be given a handout listing the photo IDs that are acceptable in November, and how they can get a free photo ID from PennDOT for voting purposes,” Aichele says. 

The state is budgeting $1-million dollars to cover the cost of issuing those free ID cards to eligible voters who affirm they need them for voting purposes.  Such ID cards would normally run you $13.50

“It is our intent to make sure every eligible voter in Pennsylvania has a photo ID,” Aichele says.  The goal of the new Voter ID law is to ensure the integrity of every vote.

Drivers License, PennDOT

PA Poised to Opt Out of REAL ID

Pennsylvania could soon become the 16th and largest state to opt out of the federal REAL ID Act.  Under REAL ID, state-issued drivers’ licenses would have to meet certain federal criteria.  PennDOT would also be required to store copies of its license holders’ identifying documents, and link its databases with those of DMVs across the country. 

“REAL ID, with the nationwide database, would really create a gold mine for identity thieves,” says ACLU of Pennsylvania legislative director Andy Hoover.  He also complains that the federal law would turn state-issued drivers’ licenses into de facto national ID cards. 

Congress enacted the REAL ID Act of 2005 in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for more secure standards for identification.  The report cites that, “All but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of US identification document by, some by fraud.” 

The Department of Homeland Security has extended the implementation deadline to January 15th, 2013, but the ACLU of PA’s Andy Hoover says REAL ID cannot function without state participation. 

REAL ID is not a new issue under the state capitol dome. The House passed a bill to block REAL ID in 2008; the Senate passed one in 2010, but time ran out in both of those legislative sessions.  This year’s bill (SB 354) passed both chambers with broad, bipartisan support.  Governor Tom Corbett is expected to sign it.

Aggressive Driving Enforcement Wave Underway in Pennsylvania

PennDOT, state troopers and local police have joined together to combat aggressive driving as spring construction season gets underway.   The enforcement wave will continue through April 29th, targeting speeding, tailgating and other aggressive driving behaviors. 

Erin Waters, a spokeswoman for PennDOT, says there will special attention in work zones.  She says they want to be sure people are keeping safety in mind.  There were more than 1800 crashes in work zones last year.  She says most of the fatalities involved people inside vehicles, rather than workers on the road.

Waters says federal funding is helping with the increased enforcement.  She reminds drivers they need to use their headlights in active work zones and obey the posted speed limit reductions.  She says fines are doubled for violations in work zones.

Waters says people can learn more about work zone safety and aggressive driving at

Pennsylvania Highway Deaths Decline in 2011 to Second Lowest Level on Record

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is reporting a decline in highway deaths.  The numbers in 2011 were the second lowest on record.   1,291 people were killed in crashes on Pennsylvania roads last year. That number is 33 fewer than in 2010.

Fatal crash statistics improved in several areas.  There were fewer alcohol-related deaths along with declines in motorcycle and bicycle fatalities. DUI-related fatalities fell from 417 to 379. That number was the lowest in more than a decade. Motorcycle deaths dropped from 223 to 198 and bicyclist fatalities dropped from 21 to 11.   Head on collision deaths dropped to their lowest level in a decade.

Erin  Waters of PennDOT says there was an area of concern. Fatalities involving 16-year-old drivers rose from 19 to 29.  She says that’s an area where they want to continue emphasizing safety and get that number back down. PennDOT has two new tools, the texting ban and new teen driver law.   The teen driver law took effect in late December, the texting ban took effect earlier this month.

Waters says PennDOT invests about 20 million dollars in state and federal funds each year, educating people on safety and helping police enforce the laws.  She says the state also focuses on safety improvements to roadways, including center and edge line rumble strips.  She says those have reduced some of the crashes involving  people crossing over roadways or running off a road and striking a tree.