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Snow tracks: Pa. plow info on tap online this weekend

If you're the kind of driving enthusiast that sees a major snowstorm and thinks, "this would be a killer chance to do some joy riding on the Schuylkill Expressway," the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has the perfect new web feature for you.

At motorists can track the progress of snow plows on major roads in the state. As the first major snowstorm of the season approaches, this weekend will be a useful test for the pilot program, which will offer detailed information about 205 plows clearing snow from interstates and limited access highways. The information will include contractors' vehicles, which makes up the majority of the plowing fleet, PennDOT staff said.

Actually, the feature promises to be pretty cool. If you go to the web site you'll see a map of the state you can zoom in on your neighborhood. If you check the "plow trucks" box the locations of active plows will show up. If you click on one of the plow icons, it will provide information about where the plow has traveled over the past two hours.

"It'll leave like a breadcrumb trail," said John Krafczyk, the assistant district executive for maintenance.

The plow icons don't move in real time, but if you refresh the page every five minutes or so their locations will be updated.

The same information is available through the 511PA app through the legend on its map function.

The plow tracker is still working out its bugs, and a weekend storm, when most people won't need to travel, is a perfect condition for a test drive.

"Timing wise, this storm is coming at a good time," said Eugenbe Blaum, PennDOT spokesman. "Looks like we're going to get through the evening rush hour. If you're going to get the foot of snow best to get it Friday night into Saturday."

Trackers have been installed on state vehicles for a while, but this is the first major winter event that will allow the public to track contractors' vehicles.

The web site has some other tools that can be used along with the plow tracker. Cameras show stills or streaming video of roads, and a speed tool gives information about how fast vehicles are traveling on the road.

The trackers on plows, called Automated Vehicle Location systems, also give information PennDOT can use to make plowing more efficient, including plows' speeds and their road salting rates.