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Multi-state members talk safety, economic development of Interstate 81

By Joshua Vaughn

This was article was posted on Cumberlink.com on April 25, 2016.

The Interstate 81 corridor spans from New York to Tennessee, crossing through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, and it sees tens of thousands of vehicles traveling along the roadway every day.

Since 1982, daily traffic on the major thoroughfare has more than doubled in Cumberland County, going from a little more than 21,000 vehicles per day to more than 52,000 vehicles per day in 2009, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Figuring out how to take advantage of the multi-state economic benefits access to the road can provide, while mitigating risks posed by an ever-increasing traffic load, was front and center as representatives from all six states met Monday at Shippensburg University as part of the Interstate 81 Corridor Coalition held its annual meeting.

“Our coalition began about eight, nine years ago, simply focused on traffic incident management and safety, and we still keep that at the fore front,” Kevin Cole, executive director of the Interstate 81 Corridor Coalition, said. “We also understand the infrastructure and safety and reliability of travel times affects not only lives but it also affects jobs and the likeliness of a business locating in a particular area … It’s all interrelated and there’s a lot of transportation issues that go into decisions.”

The two-day annual gathering kicked off Monday with a day filled with seminars on different topics relating to Interstate 81, ranging from safety and economic development to the role rail could play in relieving some of the problems seen on the highway.

Rudy Husband, spokesman for Norfork Southern, said nearly 90 percent of all goods served largely by the Interstate 81 corridor moved by truck, a number he hoped could be reduced and thus reducing truck traffic with the right economic conditions.

“We have to be careful when we have 80,000-pound rigs moving in mixed traffic with 3,000-pound passenger vehicles,” Rick Rovegno, Interstate 81 Corridor Coalition steering committee member, said. “Eventually some of them are going to bump into each other, and when you have an 80,000-pound rig bumping into a 3,000-pound passenger vehicle, it really doesn’t matter whose fault it was. There are just unfortunately all-to-frequent lethal consequences. We need to deal with those issues.”

Rovegno said one of the ways the multi-state collaboration has been able to reduce traffic incidents was through coordination following an accident to help reduce secondary accidents caused by the resulting congestion.

He said when a tanker caught fire outside of Harrisburg in 2013, drivers were able to be notified several states away thanks in part to efforts of the coalition.

Rovegno estimated 7,000 vehicles were successfully diverted off the highway, potentially saving another accident.

Safety on Interstate 81 remains a topic of concern for both the coalition and on the local level.

On Monday, the Cumberland County Commissioners approved a resolution urging the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to install safety median barriers to prevent crossover crashes in Cumberland County.

There have been four confirmed crossover-related crashes that resulted in death in Cumberland County so far this year, according to the commissioners.

The resolution will be sent to several groups, including the Department of Transportation, local elected officials and the Interstate 81 Corridor Coalition.

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