Motorists advised to drive carefully in snowy Sierra, watch for ‘tow plow’

With the potential of snow falling down to Sacramento tonight, the state Department of Transportation is especially cautioning motorists heading over mountain passes.

And those traveling over Donner Summit need to give Caltrans’ new 28-foot-wide “tow plow” plenty of clearance, officials say.

“If you are planning to travel in the mountain areas, motorists need to take extra precautions,” said Rochelle Jenkins, Caltrans spokeswoman.

“Always carry chains or utilize a 4x4 or all-wheel-drive vehicle,” Jenkins said in a news release. “Make sure to carry provisions for all passengers and allow extra travel time. During chain control, maximum speeds are severely reduced.”

Chain-control maximum speeds are 30 mph on Interstate 80 and 25 mph on Highway 50.

Caltrans is also alerting the public that the new “tow plow” will go into service on I-80 near Truckee during this storm system.

“It will be the first time this specialized snow-removal equipment is put into action in California,” Jenkins said.

When activated, the tow plow will move to the right side of the pulling plow, she said, allowing 28 feet of roadway to be cleared at once. A normal plow has a snow removal width of 10 to 12 feet.

Motorists are advised to remain 100 feet behind the equipment when lights are flashing, Jenkins said.

While advising that people not attempt to drive in weather conditions that are beyond their driving experience, Jenkins said that Caltrans “is prepared to aid motorists through the storm around the clock.”

On I-80, from Auburn to the Nevada state line, 180 personnel and 134 pieces of equipment “are ready to keep the interstate safe for passage,” she said, while 109 crew members and 74 pieces of equipment will be working on Highway 50 from El Dorado Hills to the Nevada state line.

General advice for driving in storms, Jenkins added, includes reducing speed, increasing vehicle-to-vehicle distance, replacing worn windshield wipers and always utilizing headlights.

Caltrans will provide updates on Twitter @D3PIO and on Facebook at Caltrans District 3. For more information about chain installation, current roadway conditions and live traffic cameras, go to www.dot.ca.gov/dist3/departments/mtce/chaincontrlmp.htm.