The pileup of dozens of cars and trucks on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Philadelphia on Feb. 14 was caused by weird weather and bad driving, state police have concluded.
“I believe human error played a large factor in this,” said Lt. Col. George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations, at a hearing today. Weather conditions were changing at the time of the pileup but “we had a number of drivers who did not compensate for those changing conditions,” he told the state Senate Transportation Committee.
There were 41 separate crashes on a stretch of the turnpike west of Philadelphia. The first involved 15 vehicles including four tractor-trailers; the others came as people approaching the crash scene hit their brakes. Police cited 52 drivers, mostly for going too fast for conditions.
“We’re our own worst enemy,” said Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport.
“A lot of this is human error … People are crazy,” said Sen. John Wozniak, D-Johnstown.
Two hours before the crash, the Pennsylvania Turnpike had lifted a 45 mph speed limit imposed during a snowstorm. Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in spite of that, the average speed of traffic around the time of the pileup was 45 mph.
Road crews were on the job and the turnpike had been heavily salted after 4 to 5 inches of snow fell between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. The skies had cleared and drivers were dealing with sun glare when all hell broke loose. It took hours to clear the wreckage and reopen the turnpike but no one was killed.
With Congress terrified to raise gasoline taxes or come up with some other source of badly needed transportation funding, some advocates are pushing for an end to restrictions on tolling existing interstate highways.
The federal gasoline tax, a flat 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn't been raised since 1993. It doesn’t grow with inflation, so its value has fallen by 40 percent since then, according to a computation by The New York Times. If you’ve enjoyed your effective 40 percent gasoline tax reduction, you also might be noticing the decay of the nation’s highways and bridges. The federal Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke.
The International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (aka the toll road industry), meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, assembled transportation officials and leaders from across the country to urge Congress to let states solve their own funding problems with tolls.
Among those in the chorus was former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who said:
“With transportation funding shortfalls at all levels of government, and traditional sources of funding no longer keeping pace with growing needs, it is important that Congress no longer tie the hands of governors as they seek to meet their transportation challenges. It is time for Congress to finally lift all federal restrictions on tolling existing interstates.”
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is scheduled to be closed to traffic in both directions between Allegheny Valley and Butler Valley from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday, a closure that was called off last weekend because of the weather. It will allow removal of beams from a Route 910 bridge that crosses the pike.
Also in the wee hours of Sunday, the entrance and exit ramps at Beaver Valley (Exit 13) will be closed, along with part of Route 18. Traffic will be redirected to Exit 10 at New Castle from 11:59 p.m. Saturday to 4 a.m. Sunday. The closure will allow crews to set the bridge that carries the interchange ramps over Route 18, part of the future Beaver River Bridge replacement project.
Inspection of overhead signs will cause a lane closure on the outbound Liberty Bridge from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, and on the inbound Birmingham Bridge from noon to 3 p.m.
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