Drawing lessons from massive Pa. Turnpike pileup

     A car is wedged under a semi-trailer in a huge pile-up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bensalem, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    A car is wedged under a semi-trailer in a huge pile-up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Bensalem, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is resolving to revisit communication procedures after last month’s chain-reaction pileup in Bucks County involving 41 crashes and more than 100 vehicles.

    At a Tuesday hearing called by the state Senate Transportation Committee, authorities described a number of reasons for rapidly worsening road conditions the morning of Feb. 14: overnight snow and rainfall that began to freeze again on the road, winds picking up around 7 a.m., and sun glare making it hard for motorists to see.

    But Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said authorities might have done better to brave the elements. He said the accident revealed the Turnpike could stand to clarify how it communicates with state and local partners during a crisis.

    “Radio frequency is great, but radio traffic is detrimental at times … everyone’s trying to talk at once,” Compton said. “So we really need to look at our radio protocols with our other state agency protocols.”

    The commission will also examine how to better stagger its deployment of resources and have a clear command plan during severe weather.

    Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, acknowledged his limitations in responding to the pileup.

    “But I can, as chairman of this committee, work with you,” he said to Compton, “work with all the agencies involved, to make sure that we do have a better command structure, communications structure, if you will, in these type of incidents.”

    He plans to schedule another hearing on a similar pileup last month on a stretch of I-80 in Clearfield County.

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