Are highway medians safe? PennDOT discusses upgrades after fatal crash

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Median safety has come into question after a crossover crash on I-81 Sunday killed three people. PennDOT discussed why some medians have safety barriers, while other do not.

There’s little protection against cars crossing an empty median when hauling down Midstate highways at 55, 65, or 70 mph.

Three people were killed following a cross over crash near Greencastle, Franklin County Sunday morning. Police have not determined what caused a driver to cross the median, but the person drove straight into oncoming traffic in the southbound lanes.

A year ago, two people died in a similar crash along I-81 near Carlisle. Police said a driver of an SUV crossed the grassy median and slammed into a tractor-trailer heading the opposite direction. Both drivers were killed in the crash.

Kate McCullough who drives on highways all the time said she gets chills from the sheer thought of such a scenario.

“Oh it’s terrifying,” she said. “I mean, just traffic in general is really scary and to have that issue – it’s not taken care of — it’s terrifying.”

Many people have questioned why some medians along Midstate highways have safety barriers and others do not. PennDOT spokesperson Fritzi Schreffler said the decision comes down spreading funding where it’s needed most.

“That’s something we’re taking a look at,” she said. “It’s very costly to put in some kind of barrier.”

Starting this month, PennDOT said they will begin to install cable guard rails in medians along I-81 in Franklin and Cumberland Counties near Shippensburg, as well as Rt. 283 near the Dauphin County and Lancaster County borders. The project is set to cost about $700,000.

Schreffler said safety medians will be installed in those locations after looking at crash data over the past 10 years. In this case, PennDOT has found the cable guard rails allow the safest precaution.

“When a car hits it, it does not necessarily allow it to keep moving”, she said. “[The barrier] allows it to cut down injuries to the occupants to the vehicle.”

In some areas, PennDOT said the geography or deep ditches would prohibit the installation of such barriers. Schreffler said medians that are wide and flat are also designed to allow drivers to correct course.

“If you would put some kind of median in there you could risk them ping-ponging back into the traffic in the direction they’re going where they might have had room to recover,” she said.

PennDOT did acknowledge there is a need to upgrade medians when possible.

McCullough, who was holding her toddler, said she wants every precaution when traveling on Pennsylvania roads.

“Oh my gosh…he is worth everything that PennDOT can do,” she said.

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