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EDITORIAL: At a standstill on I-83
We've all been there.
You're driving on Interstate 83, late for work or an appointment, when suddenly, up ahead, traffic is completely stopped.
You've just passed an exit, and there's no way you're getting to the next one anytime soon. You can't see around the truck in front of you, so you have no idea if there's a crash or if a tree has fallen and blocked the road or if the zombie apocalypse has started and you're going to be one of the first victims because you're stuck on the highway and can't move your car.
Between 2007 and March 2016, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation logged unplanned closures of I-83 that lasted more than an hour 87 times. If a driver had been stuck in the traffic for the entire length of those closures, he or she would have been sitting there for nearly 11 days.
York County ranks third in the state for the amount of time the interstate is closed. We're right behind Washington County, which has the intersection of I-70 and I-79, and Philadelphia, which is, well, Philadelphia.
PennDOT and the state police say they're not surprised by the length of time I-83 is closed. After all, it's a major highway, and 40 miles of it go the length of York County, with 21 exits, several of them in tight clusters.
Local officials also say it's not the fault of the roadway, but it could be the fault of the people who drive on it.
“Considering if you travel on 83, considering the way people travel, I’m surprised it’s not higher,” Loganville Fire Co. Chief Brian Ream said to reporter Christopher Dornblaser, who recently wrote about the I-83 closures.
Crashes are inevitable on any highway, and when there are crashes, the roadway closes.
But the nature of I-83 makes those closures longer and more disruptive. Since it's two lanes through most of the county and exits are often close together, a crash on one side often means police stop traffic on the other side as well so ambulances and fire crews have a clear path to get to the wreck.
The York County section of the highway was completed in 1960, and while there has been work done on it since then, many of the exits retain their original designs. At many spots, that means short merging lanes that back up traffic into one of the two lanes of travel (think Mount Rose Avenue or Shrewsbury exits) and even shorter exits, which sometime go into a tight turn (we're talking about you, Queen Street).
There are plans to improve the situation. PennDOT is four years into a seven-year project to improve the conditions at the Mount Rose exit, and it's working on reconfiguring the Shrewsbury exit entirely after a population boom in the area drastically increased the number of vehicles using the highway.
And there's the bigger plan to spend $200 million to $250 million by 2026 to expand I-83 to three lanes in each direction between Mount Rose and Emigsville, using money from the Act 89 transportation fund.
But that's not going to help the situation today. For the moment, there's one solution that will keep the number of crashes on the highway down:
Stop driving aggressively.
Yes, people are going to speed on the highway. A posted limit of 65 usually means traffic is moving at about 70 or 75 mph. But that doesn't mean drivers have a license to dart in and out of traffic at 90 mph. It doesn't give motorcycles permission to fly along between cars and trucks.
It also means people need to keep up with the speed of the other drivers. If your car won't go over 50 up a hill, you shouldn't be driving it on I-83.
And pay attention to road conditions. If it's raining, turn on your headlights and be aware of slick conditions. If it's dark, turn on your lights. If a vehicle is broken down on the side of the road, move into the left lane if you can.
In a couple of decades, I-83 could be a nice place to drive. In the meantime, let's keep it safe out there.