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York County ranks high in lengthy interstate closures

Christopher Dornblaser
505-5436/@YDDornblaser
  • I-83 was closed 87 times for more than an hour over nine years.
  • York County ranks third in the state for unscheduled interstate closures.

Most York County drivers are familiar with Interstate 83 and, of course, the many closures that plague our stretch of the highway. But are we actually spending an inordinate amount of time at a standstill, or is that just aggravation playing tricks on us?

Amanda J. Cain photo

No, it's real.

From 2007 until March 2016, sections of I-83 in York County were closed for more than an hour 87 times, totaling 15,796 minutes, because of traffic crashes, according to data from the state Department of Transportation.

A vehicle crash that happened at 10:48 a.m. Wednesday, July 13, 2016, has stopped southbound traffic.
(Photo courtesy of 511pa.com)

A driver unlucky enough to hit the beginning of every one of those closures would have spent nearly 11 solid days waiting for the highway to reopen.

While closures on the roadway might seem to be the norm, the amount of lengthy closures other counties dealt with on their interstates during the same time period is much lower than here in York County.

York County ranks third for the number of unscheduled interstate closures exceeding one hour, behind only Washington County, at 111 closures, and Philadelphia County, with 88 closures, according to PennDOT's records.

Crashes: State police spokesman Trooper Adam Reed was not surprised when he heard the number of closures in York County. Reed said because of the length of I-83 in York County — about 40 miles — the number of crashes in the county would be higher compared to other counties.

“Certainly 83 is a very busy roadway, and it spans nearly the entire length of the county,” he said.

Reed said one reason so many crashes occur in the county might be the high number of I-83 exits and the merging that goes along with them.

Loganville Fire Co. Chief Brian Ream does not think there are any problems with the roadway itself that lead to the crashes.

Amanda J. Cain photo

The fire company is located close to the interstate, so its firefighters are among the first emergency personnel on the scene during a crash.

He said there are a wide variety of reasons why the crashes occur, ranging from texting and driving to driving too fast.

“If I had to guess, I'd say the majority of it comes down to human error,” he said.

Like Reed, Ream was not too surprised by the number of closures.

“Considering if you travel on 83, considering the way people travel, I’m surprised it’s not higher,” he said.

Neighboring Cumberland and Dauphin counties had similar numbers of closures, with 65 and 57, respectively. Those figures are for closures of I-83 and Interstate 81 in Cumberland County and I-81, I-83 and Interstate 283 in Dauphin County.

Lengthy closures: York County's average road closure time for closures exceeding one hour is slightly more than three hours — 182 minutes.

Reed said each crash is different. Sometimes investigators need to come in and re-create the crash if it proves to be fatal, which could add to the length of the closure.

Fritzi Schreffler, PennDOT safety press officer, said another reason a road might be closed for so long is because of the time of day it happened, specifically if the crash occurred during rush hour.

“It’s getting there itself that can be a problem,” she said.

A disabled vehicle on Interstate 83 northbound is causing traffic near Exit 35 onto Lewisberry Thursday morning.

Emergency responders face the same traffic as commuters, and Schreffler said that slows things down.

"Depending on the severity of it, you may shut down the opposite direction," she said.

Schreffler said the amount of cleanup for a crash also would  add to the closure time.

“It’s not like PennDOT’s standing around with nothing to do,” she said.

Neighboring counties had fewer interstate closures, but they had longer average closure times than York, with 264 minutes for Cumberland and 226 minutes for Dauphin.

Cumberland County interstates were closed for 17,146 minutes, and Dauphin County interstates were closed for 12,884 minutes.

None of the figures includes closures of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Interstate 76.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser atcdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@YDDornblaser.