After a late start, snow fencing is going up in Penn Forest Township.
During several earlier snowstorms this season, motorists along the Route 903 and Maury Road mountain summit could only wonder what's going on as they drove through drifting snow and could see, in the distance, a neat row of snow fencing lying in the open fields.
According to Ron Young, spokesmen for PennDOT Engineering District 5, "Snow fencing starts going up Nov. 1 and is taken down on April 15. This year, the first storm was mid-October. Our folks have not been able to schedule to get the fence up due to other requirements."
Certain properties adjacent to roads in Penn Forest Township are barren of trees, shrubs and barriers. In the summer, unless they are plantings, runoff problems occur. In the winter, they allow snow to sweep onto the roadways, making them difficult to keep clear.
According to Young, for about 15 years, PennDOT has attempted to lessen this problem by installing snow fences.
"Snow fencing is not mandatory in Pennsylvania," Young noted. "It is at the discretion of each engineering district."
PennDOT currently uses a wire-tied fence of wooden slats for snow fencing. It is designed so that when the snow blows over the fence, a low pressure area forms on the downstream side of the fence. The particles of snow are sucked into the low pressure area. Because the snow accumulates on the downstream side of the fence, the fence must be set back from the road.
PennDOT tries to work with the landowners where the snow is blowing across the road. Where the property is used for farming, they wait until Nov. 1 to allow sufficient time for the crops to be harvested. This year, it turned out they waited too long. The snow came and between having crews plow the roads, having a buildup of snow on the snow fencing that had been positioned in bundles in the fields, and having a period of intense cold, PennDOT crews got a late start on installing the snow fencing.
In the future, PennDOT hopes to work with property owners to establish natural snow fencing such as plantings for residences, and not harvesting several rows of corn on farms. This approach would have the snow barriers in place even if there is an early snowfall while reducing PennDOT's labor to transport, install and remove the fencing.
According to Penn Forest Township, there were reports of poor traction and an accident related to the blowing snow. Young said PennDOT is looking into that, but meanwhile, while the weather has become milder, they are installing the snow fencing.
Young also said the delay in installing the snow fencing had nothing to do with the Pennsylvania budget cuts.
"Our funding is separate from the general budget," he said. "Our income comes from gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees, and driver's license fees."
Young said that this has been a busy winter season for PennDOT but they are prepared with sufficient salt and aggregate, and a fleet of vehicles for any foreseen snow emergency.