PennDOT to conduct study on one of Interstate-81’s problem areas

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GRANTVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — PennDOT is investigating a stretch of Interstate-81 that’s seen crash after crash on rainy days this summer — and it’s not the typical fender-bender.

“We’re looking at 81, from probably from the Linglestown, Paxtonia exit, all the way up to the split with [Interstate]78, and probably a little bit north of there in Lebanon County,” said PennDOT spokesperson, Fritzi Schreffler.

Within that range have been two major crashes.

The first happened on July 8 — after a downpour led to a series of five crashes that ensnared at least 15 tractor trailers and shut down the interstate for hours.

One of the drivers died.

“Even with covid, that is a huge traffic for truck traffic and interstate traffic, because it’s New York, all the way south,” Schreffler said.

The second happened almost exactly a month later on August 7. PennDOT reported several injuries after three tractor trailers overturned and six, total had to be hauled away.

It was the same scenario as the July 8 pile-up: heavy rain, multiple crashes. Locals told us this is all too common.

“This happens here very time it rains. The road turns into a sheet of ice. It’s that smooth,” said Jack Robinson, a Lebanon County resident.

“What you have to do when you look at that is, what was the cause of the very first crash? Was that a weather-related crash when the storms came through, but what caused the secondary crashes?” Schreffler asked

Rain and driver behavior might be factors on the surface, but PennDOT’s study will dig deeper and determine if they should make engineering changes to the road itself or lower speed.

What you can change now — no matter the condition — is slowing down and giving tractor-trailers room.

“It takes a football field for them being able to stop — pretty much, and that really is the truth, and if you add bad weather into it, it’s going to take a little longer for them to slow down,” Schreffler said.

PennDOT already had this area on its radar to research before these crashes even happened, but said the accidents highlight the need.

The study is still in the planning stages.

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