CHICAGO – Illinois transportation and law enforcement agencies are gearing up for the first winter storm of the 2012-2013 season and are warning the public to be prepared for dangerous driving conditions on Northern Illinois roadways. With a National Weather Service winter storm warning starting at 6 a.m. Thursday for northwestern Illinois, both the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Tollway are mobilizing forces to combat severe conditions.
The National Weather Service is warning of snowfall of four to eight inches north of I-80, with northwest winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour and gusts up to 55 miles per hour. The blowing snow could create whiteout conditions with zero visibility at times. The forecast for Chicago and the northeastern part of the state are for rain Thursday, turning to snow Thursday night, with wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour.
“IDOT is preparing for severe winter weather conditions across the northern part of the state, and motorists should think twice before venturing onto roadways,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said. “IDOT winter crews will be working to clear state roadways as needed, but we also ask motorists to take the necessary steps to help ensure their personal safety as well. Anyone driving in these kinds of conditions should be sure to buckle up, slow down and allow plenty of extra time to reach your destination. And please don’t crowd the snow plows.”
"We are ready to put our plans into action as soon as the snowfall begins, but we ask that our customers slow down and allow plenty of extra time,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. “We urge our customers to stay off the roads during heavy snowstorms if possible, but if they must drive, drivers should stay alert and focus all of their attention on the road and remember that it is always illegal to text and drive in Illinois.”
“Winter driving conditions can be hazardous on first responders and motorists. We are reminding the motoring public that when accidents occur and conditions are extreme, exchanging insurance and driver information are advised to keep motorists safe and roads clear, unless medical attention is required,” said ISP Director Hiram Grau.
IDOT is mobilizing more than 550 snow plows to clear the roads in the two Highway Districts responsible for northern Illinois roads. The Tollway is mobilizing its full fleet of 182 snow plows in preparation for this expected major snow event to help make travel safer and easier for those who must be out on the 286-mile system of toll roads serving 12 counties in Northern Illinois.
The Illinois Tollway’s Snow Operations Center will be activated as soon as necessary and staffed with traffic center operators and snow and ice control supervisors ready to manage this winter weather event. To help with snow removal efforts, the Tollway has cancelled all temporary lane closures.
IDOT and the Tollway are advising drivers to be aware of rapidly deteriorating weather conditions in the Chicago region Thursday with rain changing to snow accompanied by high winds that could significantly reduce visibility during the late afternoon and evening rush hour.
The Tollway and IDOT’s snow plows are prepared for the winter snow season and the agencies have stockpiled salt and de-icing materials to provide the highest possible level of service during winter operations. Snowplows travel at speeds of about 30 mph, so motorists should expect delays. During heavy snowfall, snow plows often work in tandem to remove as much ice, slush and snow as possible from all lanes at once. When it is safe to pass, the plows spread out and allow traffic to flow around them.
IDOT and Illinois Tollway Keep Drivers Informed
In addition to working to keep roads free of snow and ice, the Illinois Tollway is also helping to provide drivers with additional information to help them reach their destinations safely during winter weather events.
For information about non-toll roads in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois, motorists can visit www.gettingaroundillinois.com before traveling to get a full report on current road conditions by route.
On Illinois tollways, the Illinois Tollway’s Traffic and Incident Management System (TIMS) provides real-time travel times and roadway conditions via the Illinois Tollway’s website, www.illinoistollway.com, and on over-the-road electronic message signs throughout the Tollway.
Drivers can call *999 from their cell phone to request assistance or report stranded vehicles. Drivers should note the roadway and direction of travel and nearest milepost or crossroad. The *999 service is funded by the Illinois Tollway and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
In addition, the Tollway operates a toll-free telephone line to keep customers up to date about weather conditions on its roadways. Customers can call 1-800-TOLL-FYI (1-800-865-5394) to get recorded information that is updated every two hours or as conditions require during winter storms.
Drivers also can sign up for Tollway Tweets at www.twitter.com or from the Tollway’s website at www.illinoistollway.com to receive real-time information about roadway incidents, including the type of incident, location and impact on traffic to assist drivers in planning their trips. Tweeters can follow all four Tollway Trips or just the roadways that interest them. The four are Tollway Trip 90, Tollway Trip 94/294, Tollway Trip 88 and Tollway Trip 355.
The Illinois Tollway also reminds customers that the seven Oases located along the Tollway system also serve as statewide warming centers. On the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80), there are four Oases: Lake Forest, O’Hare, Hinsdale and Chicago Southland Lincoln in South Holland. There are two Oases on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) in Belvidere and Des Plaines, and one on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) in DeKalb.
Winter Weather Travel Tips
While the Illinois Tollway is doing its part to keep the roads clear and traffic moving, drivers need to do their part, as well. The Tollway offers the following winter driving tips:
• Clear snow and ice from all windows, mirrors and lights on your vehicle before you drive.
Blowing snow can significantly diminish visibility. Clearing all windows BEFORE you start driving assures maximum vision of your surroundings and assists in reducing ice and snow buildup as you drive.
• Stay alert to avoid distracted driving.
Illinois’ distracted driving law prohibits drivers from using electronic devices to text, email or access Internet sites while driving a vehicle at any time. Drivers should avoid any distractions that will take their eyes off of the road during inclement weather.
• Reduce speed in cash lanes at toll plazas.
Drivers paying cash at toll plazas should adjust their speed on approach during snow and ice storms. Watch for lane designations on approach to the toll plaza; switching lanes close to the toll plaza is unsafe, especially during winter weather.
• Adjust speed to road conditions and traffic around you.
Reducing speed during inclement weather conditions increases your ability to respond to the unexpected.
• Increase the interval between your vehicle and the one in front of you. By creating more distance between your vehicle and others, you decrease your chances of a collision because stopping distances increase as pavement conditions deteriorate.
• Avoid unnecessary lane changes.
During heavy snowstorms, slush and packed snow build up in the area between traffic lanes. Abrupt or frequent lane changes may cause your vehicle to slide on the buildup and spin out of control.
• Keep away from snowplows.
Should you encounter snowplows, the safest choice is to keep back and let them do their job. They travel at a speed of approximately 30 miles per hour, so traffic delays should be expected. During periods of extremely heavy snow, Illinois Tollway snowplow trucks will work in tandem to remove as much ice, slush and snow as possible from all lanes at once.
• Do not use the shoulder of the road to pass a snowplow.
Some snowplows are equipped with wing plows that extend to the left or right of the vehicle. While these wings allow for more efficient removal of snow, they are nearly invisible to passing motorists due to blowing snow. De-icing materials spread from the rear of the truck may also be a distraction to motorists attempting to pass.
• Call *999 for roadway assistance.
Should you encounter car trouble and require roadway assistance, try to move your car to a safe position on the shoulder or in an untraveled area. Report stranded vehicles by dialing *999 from a cellular phone.
• Stay in your vehicle, H.E.L.P. is on the way.
During continued periods of extremely cold weather, the Illinois Tollway operates a “Zero Patrol” to supplement the Illinois State Police District 15 and the Tollway’s Highway Emergency Lane Patrol (H.E.L.P.) vehicles. IDOT’s Emergency Traffic Patrol Minutemen patrol Chicago area expressways. Stay in your vehicle – it’s the safest place to be if you are stranded.