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U.S. 11/15 closure Sunday concerns nearby EMS units

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MARYSVILLE, Pa. -- A one mile stretch of U.S. 11/15 in Marysville, Perry County will close for three months beginning Sunday night at 9 p.m. It is unavoidable, but necessary, says Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.

Crews will close a stretch of U.S. 11/15 from the I-81 interchange to Ridgeview Drive. This will allow the contractor group to work on securing an increasingly dangerous 200-foot high rock slope.

PennDOT estimates approximately 17,500 vehicles daily will feel the impact of the U.S. 11/15 closure. Months of planning have gone into the shutdown, and PennDOT has identified two primary detour routes.

The preferred detour takes drivers on U.S. 22/322 from Duncannon, along the east shore of the Susquehanna River, into Susquehanna Township. A second detour routes drivers 34 miles on state routes 274, 34, 850, and 954 before taking them to I-81 at the Wertzville Road exit.

PennDOT, which is only allowed to assign detours with state and U.S. routes, says other aveunes around the construction exist. Spokesperson Fritzi Schreffler added those back roads cannot carry the same amounts of traffic as the suggested detours. However, for emergency medical units, such as East Pennsboro Twp. EMS, extra time and distance is not a luxury they can afford to spare.

"We forecast we are going to tack on an extra 10-15 minutes for emergency and non-emergency responses," says Phillip Beck, chief of operations for the East Pennsboro ambulance service.

Beck says most emergency calls along U.S. 11/15 into Marysville take 15 minutes to arrive.

With the closure, instead of taking one of PennDOT's detours, Beck says East Pennsboro EMS will use windy Belle Vista Road, a 25 miles per hour back road in Summerdale, Cumberland County, which connects with River Road across the county line. River Road is also 25 m.p.h., and recently had four speed bumps installed to curb speeding with it's eventual increase in traffic.

"There are two major concerns," Beck said as he drove one of the ambulances along Belle Vista Rd. "One, its 25 miles per hour, so that’s going to delay our responses. The second concern is the amount of traffic using this detour route."

He says PennDOT told him to expect an additional 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles along Belle Vista Rd. and River Rd. during the three month closure.

East Pennsboro EMS tried to secure $55,000 from PennDOT to place a unit full-time in Marysville from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. so to avoid traffic and detours. However, Beck says they were unable to get the money.

The next best option, he says, is to put a crew in Summerdale near the Perry County line.

"We believe we can reduce response times by 7 or 8 minutes there," Beck says.