PennDOT plan to reduce median crossover crashes on I-81

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MIDDLESEX TOWNSHIP, CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. -- A four-mile stretch of Interstate 81 in Cumberland County has seen more than a dozen deaths in the last few years.

PennDOT is moving forward with a plan to reduce the number of crashes and fatalities on the road.

Many people in Cumberland County, from county commissioners to emergency medical services, asked PennDOT to do something to make part of the interstate safer.

Thursday, they got the answer they had been waiting for from PennDOT.

Their concern was finding a way to eliminate median crossover crashes on  the interstate.

Assistant chief Cumberland Goodwill EMS Nathan Harig said "these are the ugliest accidents we respond to. The crossover crashes usually involve a heavier vehicle, a truck, maybe a large SUV, or something like that. They result in more serious injuries, so it's not our most frequent emergency, but it's certainly one of our most severe."

Cumberland County commissioner Jim Hertzler said "these are the kind of crashes that essentially produce serious injury or death, because usually what it ends up being is a head on collision."

A PennDOT plan to install more guardrails and cable median barriers through a four-mile stretch of I-81 in the Carlisle area could reduce the number and severity of those crashes.

PennDOT District 8 executive Mike Keiser said "this has been, and is on our radar. We also have projects in construction right now that addresses a lot of the concerns with the median crashes."

"There is no perfect solution as we heard today, no quick fix, no easy answers, but I was very appreciative of the fact that PennDOT has essentially given us a 'yes' that they're going to move forward with cable median barriers," Hertzler said.

Interstates may be safer than most streets, but crashes and traffic deaths are up. After all, more than 10 million miles are driven by cars, trucks and other vehicles along I-81 everyday.

"It's good to see that the issue for crossover crashes is on PennDOT's radar. That's always been our goal, making sure that especially in the Carlisle area where we respond to, that we're doing everything we can to make the roadway improvements necessary," Harig said.

"Our goal here at PennDOT is to try to reduce fatalities and severe accidents by 50 percent. Crunching through these numbers, having projects like this is a great step in that direction," Keiser said.

Cable barriers will be added as part of a current construction project on I-81 between PA 581 and Route 114, before PennDOT turns its focus to the four-mile stretch of the interstate, between exits 44 and 45.

In a statement, state representative Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) said “I am appreciative that PennDOT took the time to listen to our increasing concerns about the horrific crossover crashes on a section of Interstate 81 that many residents from our community and beyond regularly travel."