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Traveler ponders “to pack a shovel or an umbrella’

December 25, 2018

For Bob Kasey, of Boston, traveling down the Pennsylvania Turnpike on Dec. 24 has become a holiday tradition.

“My mother is in Florida and the in-laws (are) in East Genoa and Philly, so snow to beaches tends to be a sign of the holiday,” he said at the Somerset rest stop.

Kasey is a full-time warehouse worker, and tends to have little time to take off to see the family. But this time every year he uses his time off to truck his wife and three kids up and down the east coast.

“It’s a lot of miles and a lot of coffee, but it’s worth it,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is projecting 6.3 million vehicles will travel the Turnpike through New Years Day. The commission also expects 410,000 each day from Christmas to New Years.

“While there may be a white Christmas in parts of Pennsylvania with heavy rain and snow in the forecast for later this week, the weather does not seem to be a deterrent for those heading out for the holidays,” Mark Compton, commission CEO, said in a press release.

The United States Department of Transportation reports in 2017 the average long distance trip for Christmas and New Years holiday’s is 275 miles, with visiting friends and family being the single biggest reason people travel.

“Typically, the Christmas through New Year holiday is among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year, with 90 percent of travel occurring by car,” Compton said.

Bryan Sanders, of Carlisle, was taking the Turnpike home from school, hoping to see his sister and parents during the break. But for Sanders it’s not the gas or travel time from Pittsburgh to visit his relatives to visit his relatives that’s the problem, but the weather.

“Just the last couple of days we’ve had unpredictable amounts of snow and rain,” he said. “I didn’t know whether to pack a shovel or an umbrella.”

Accuweather senior meteorologist Tom Kines said most of the holiday season will consist of rain and a few flurries. While there are risks of decreased visibility and hydroplaning, Klines said conditions will be better than if travelers were transversing the turnpike in snow.

“For a considerable time of the year, travel will not be too bad,” he said. “Looks like it will be a brown Christmas for a lot of folks.”

Compton said the Turnpike will have increased police, safety and maintenance patrols throughout the holiday season. Compton added officials have a new application to assist in detecting incidents quickly on the 552-mile roadway.

“The Early Warning Detection tool is an application that monitors entire roadway and identifies ‘watchpoints’ based on specific criteria,” he said. ” Our Traffic Operations Center staff can use this tool to monitor and look at a section of roadway to know the real-time speed, active Waze alerts and weather within a half mile segment of road.”

Kasey said he’s not worried about accidents or slick highways, but teary and whiney children in the back seat during the long trips down.

“All they want to do is see what Santa brings them, and all I want to do is get there before they kill each other,” he remarked.

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