Janelle Crossley had just left work on June 8. She pulled onto Interstate 81, followed by two other cars. Then came the motorcycle, the screeching of brakes and a horrific sight in the rearview mirror.
“I looked in the rear view mirror and saw this stuff flying in the air,” she said.
What she saw that afternoon was the immediate aftermath of the collision of a motorcycle and a Mack truck that claimed the life of a Millerstown man.
“I still see that,” Crossley said.
The memory of that sight prompted Crossley to launch a petition drive to urge PennDOT to make temporary changes to I-81 between Newville and Middlesex until appropriate permanent measures can be taken.
Citing the traffic flow and the high volume of traffic, the petition calls for the maximum speed limit to be reduced to 45 miles per hour. The current speed limit of 55 miles per hour does not allow enough time for vehicles to merge on or off the interstate, given the short entrance and exit ramps at some of the interchanges, she said.
“They can lower it to 45 for bad weather, high winds, ice and snow and there’s no issues. But why can’t they lower it to 45 all the time to save lives?” Crossley asked.
The petition also asks that through traffic be limited to the left lane only to allow a smoother flow of traffic. It also asks for enforcement of the lower speed limit and traffic restrictions even if it means placing State Police cars in various areas and moving them frequently.
The petition also calls for signs to be put up at the Middlesex and Newville interchanges to warn motorists that they are entering a congested area, and that the speed limit decreases.
Crossley said the recommendations in the petition are “common sense” ideas that came about as she started closely observing traffic patterns following that deadly June crash. Some of the ideas are taken from solutions she had seen while traveling in other areas.
The petition has the support of Cumberland Valley Rising, Crossley said. She has gathered signatures in person for the petition and an online version has garnered more than 100 signatures.
It’s likely to receive less support when she delivers it to PennDOT in October.
PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny said the suggestions, “though well-intentioned, may not produce the desired safety results.”
Reducing the speed limit to 45 miles per hour under normal operating conditions would create an unsafe speed disparity among all the vehicles, he said.
“We’ve seen this problem identified and documented by national and state traffic engineering studies,” Penny said.
Restricting through traffic to the left lane can result in a number of unsafe conditions including increased congestion in that lane, difficulty merging into the left lane from the right lane, increased number of lane changes due to the restriction and motorist frustration. The restriction could also lead to unbalanced traffic volumes, leading to aggressive driving.
Putting all of the trucks in the left lane would also increase congestion, especially in low-speed conditions, Penny said.
Crossley has also heard the argument that making the changes she suggested could be expensive, but she counters that the cost must be weighed against the benefits.
“Is it better to spend money on a couple of signs and some enforcement than it is to watch somebody die?” she asked. “The other thing is: how much money do the businesses in Carlisle lose because Carlisle is jam-packed and patrons can’t get in to patronize the businesses.”
A key point for Crossley is that her suggestions are only a stop-gap measure until permanent improvements beyond a crossover barrier is approved. Those permanent measures could include a third lane through the area as well as longer ramps at the interchanges, she said.
Permanent or temporary, Crossley wants to see solutions so that what she saw back in June doesn’t keep happening on I-81.
“It’s a shame that people going through the Cumberland Valley on 81 enter our beautiful county and leave in a box,” Crossley said.