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IDOT, Peoria officials urge motorists to remain patient, drive safely during winter weather

Joe Deacon
Snow plows are prepped for winter road maintenance at the Illinois Department of Transportation facility in Edwards.

With Greater Peoria seeing its first snowfall of the season this week, the Illinois Department of Transportation and other agencies are reminding drivers to stay alert on the roadways.

“While our top priority is making sure our roads are safe for the motoring public, we do ask the motoring public to do their part as well,” said Anna Ghidina, the traffic operations engineer for IDOT District 4 that includes the Tri-County area. “Together we're reminding the people we serve safety is everyone's responsibility.”

Ghidina spoke Wednesday at IDOT’s maintenance facility in Edwards during the launch of this year’s “Winter Weather – Get It Together” awareness campaign. She said IDOT prepares year-round for its winter operations.

“We promise to get the job done, but we are asking the public to please remain patient during the winter weather. We always strive to keep our highways passable with a priority on the interstates and U.S. routes. But completely clearing roads after an event can take some time,” she said.

Rudy Moreno and Kris Blayney, two of IDOT’s most experienced snowplow drivers in the region, stressed the need for drivers to be mindful of their presence on the highways.

“All those people running late going to work with weather conditions, we're trying to work as fast as we can and be efficient. Just give us a space, especially when we're on narrow roads and stuff like that because we're trying to do the best with the weather. But we're also trying to accommodate for traffic as well,” said Moreno.

“We’ve got everything to worry about,” added Blayney. “Along with all the other drivers, we’ve got our truck, low visibility from the snow, lights flashing. It's a big orange truck or a big red truck, so stay back as far as you can, that's the best thing we can tell any drivers on the road.”

Blayney recommended drivers keep a safe distance from other vehicles during heavy traffic. He said young drivers especially need to stay off their cell phones and avoid distractions.

“Give us the priority. When I'm driving that truck, I get people I know coming by, honking at me and calling me – ‘Oh man, I saw you driving.’ I cannot hear or pay attention (to) anything but what I'm doing,” he said. “Your headlights are in a pile of snow behind me; I'm concentrating on what's in front of me.”

Joe Deacon
Anna Ghidina, the Illinois Department of Transportation traffic operations engineer for District 4, speaks during a news conference for the launch of this year's“Winter Weather – Get It Together” awareness campaign.

Ghidina said IDOT is still hiring temporary snow and ice removal operators for the season, and the agency is 10-15% short of what they typically hire for the entire state. Sie Maroon, the deputy director of public works operations for the City of Peoria, said they’re two drivers shy of their desired winter staffing level.

“If we could just reassure the public, there isn't a whole lot that you're going to need to worry about,” said Maroon. "We're going to be there and we're going to be out there, whether it be day or night; we'll have the material, we'll have our equipment, we'll have our drivers ready to go.”

Maroon said his department is starting the season a little on the low end with their supply of melting compounds, but a shipment is expected to arrive shortly. But he also stressed that safe driving is the most important factor.

“What we want people to understand is, we're out there for them,” said Maroon. “Our plow drivers are out there for the public; we are there to help people get to where they need to go, and we want them to get there safely. But we need help from the drivers. The critical piece is that if you see a plow, you need to slow down.”

Illinois State Police Trooper Haylie Polistina also cautioned drivers to drive slowly when there’s snow on the roads.

“We're asking everyone to reduce their speed and really be mindful of Scott’s Law — of the police officers on the side of the roadway, or road workers on side of the roadway or anyone on the side of the road with their hazard lights on, please slow down and move over for them,” said Polistina.

“And if you find yourself on the side of the road, call 911 and remain in your car — it's the safest place to be — with your seatbelt on. Again, stay off your cell phone, be mindful, look at the roadway, and give those plows some space.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.