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'Ready to go:' IDOT prepares for winter and holiday travel

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The Illinois Department of Transportation is reminding drivers to stay alert on the roads and keep an eye out for snow plow operators.

Public Information Officer Paul Wappel said preparing for winter at the agency is a never-ending process.

“It's something we do 12 months a year, we're always prepared,” he said. “It's an important time of the year, obviously, with all kinds of possibilities for inclement weather, but we're ready to go.”

Preparations this year included several open houses as IDOT looks for “snowbirds,” or seasonal employees. Wappel said there are about 1,800 plows available at the department and 1,600 permanent employees available statewide. The goal is to have an additional 1,600 to 1,650 temporary employees.

“Hey, you know, you want to help us in the winter, earn some extra money on the side, and make a difference in your community where you live and help the state clear roads and bridges?” said Wappel. “That's the way to do that.”

The first couple of light snowfalls of the season went very smoothly for the department, he said, adding even an unexpected 5 to 6 inches of snow weren’t a major issue.

“What happened was the snow was so intense that it overcame the pavement temperatures and not to get too technical, but the pavement that had been warm and so forth,” he said. “But we, you know, we took care of things, and we’re ready to go.”

While the Department of Transportation spends all year preparing for winter, Wappel asks drivers to be prepared for encountering snow plows on the road. The number one thing to remember is: don’t pass a snow plow.

“It's hard for the snowplow operators to see what's on the side,” said Wappel. “These are big pieces of equipment they're operating, the snow may be coming down ice and so forth.”

He also points out: the road behind a snow plow is likely going to be in better condition than the road in front of a plow. A snow plow accident also could put one of the machines temporarily out of commission, slowing down road clearing in the area.

“It's a lose-lose situation if somebody crowds a plow, hits the plow and so forth.” said Wappel.

There are some general tips Wappel has for winter and holiday travel safety. Bridges, ramps and overpasses freeze quickly, so keep in mind the possibility of black ice on cold morning commutes. Always have a cell phone and car charger with you in case of an emergency, as well as at least half a tank of gas and some water and food if you’re traveling a considerable distance.

“Those are always good things to have,” said Wappel. “Because you just never know if you might get stranded or caught in traffic for a long time.”

Of course, Wappel said drivers should always buckle up on the way to Thanksgiving dinner and never drink and drive.

“So, please drive sober and be prepared for all kinds of weather conditions and watch your speed,” he said.

You can find more information about road conditions and snow throughout the winter here.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.