Can something be done to stop all the deaths on Interstate 81?

September 11 – It’s shocking how often we hear of deadly accidents on Interstate 81 in the tri-state area. We have deaths from Carlisle to West Virginia sometimes daily.

The ultimate question is: can anything be done and if so, will anyone actually do it?

A recent piece in the Hagerstown Herald Mail essentially asked that exact question.

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “Is this the time when you see a piece like this yesterday’s Herald Mail, do we finally have the opportunity to really look at this and really do something?”

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “This is a nonpartisan issue, probably over 90 percent of people that live in this area agree something needs to be done with that infrastructure. Yes, we know it’s going to cost a lot of money. But it’s killing people, it seems like every week. It’s affecting the communities that are up and down that 81 corridor. We know it’s been such a driver of economic growth, but now it seems to be going the other way. I’ve talked to a couple of small businesses that have said they want to deliberately be somewhere not along 81. They’re so concerned about the congestion and the safety issues. That’s another angle that I don’t think is discussed enough here. Has the highway become a victim of its own success to the point that it might even deter certain new developments? So that’s just yet another layer of problems here.”

Ryan said, “It’s a heartbreaking stretch of highway.”

Jim Kercheval, executive director of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, said, “Talking to Mike Ross, he’s hoping we get the Maryland section done because he feels it won’t be until that time they can really help push the Pennsylvania folks to start PennDOT to put their 81 winding project up in the forefront. For us, we finally got some money for phase two. But still that won’t be completed until 2027 and that only takes us halfway down a road to the Halfway Boulevard exit. If you really look at where a lot of the crashes have been the last 10, 15 years, it happens between Halfway Boulevard and Maugans Avenue, which is the section that’s still not even funded or on the books yet. So it’s been a really slow process and it’s a frustrating process. I think part of it is for us the funders, the people that tend to most push the money are central Maryland transit focused. A lot of money goes towards transit that way. They just don’t understand what it’s like to be on a rural highway with 30 percent truck traffic, right. They see a lot of vehicles per day down there around the beltway. I’ve caught that congestion but it’s different than when you have trucks every three or four cars.”

Paul Frey, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said, “It’s a team effort. Our representatives in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia need to come together, work together on this. We have been working over 20 years to improve I-81, from four lanes to six lanes. As of this past year, we have $100 million that’s going to be used to widen the lanes from West Virginia up to exit five. We’re coming from the south up and we’re working next on how do we work from Pennsylvania the other way? It’s important to mention safety, the economy. There are frankly companies who want to locate here but their employees and their customers don’t want to be on I-81. I’ve heard several people say they just avoid that because of the accidents. Part of what’s happening is a lot of money for transportation is going to electric vehicles and the support of that. The argument is well even if we widen the road, it’s not going to reduce the traffic. Well what’s happening on that 12-mile stretch through Washington County, because we need a third lane, people coming on and leaving the highway, there’s not enough opportunity to come on. So the trucks are either in the right lane, and the cars can’t come on or they’re in the left lane blocking the flow. So we need that third lane and we’re going to be working on that. I think in the next 18 months we’ll see some construction again from West Virginia on up and we’re working on dollars from Pennsylvania on down.