A new law in Pennsylvania is intended to improve safety and deter delinquent behavior on various overpasses around the state.
Gov. Tom Wolf has signed into law a bill to mandate the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation erect fencing on certain state-owned bridges. Previously SB564, the new law took effect immediately.
PennDOT already has guidelines in place for protective fence-railing. However, the rule applies only for limited circumstances that include where there is a bridge with a sidewalk over an interstate, railroad or other limited-access freeway.
The new rule requires protective fencing to be included on new bridges. The rule also applies to existing interstate bridges when a major renovation is needed.
A provision added to the bill in the House includes a requirement for the state DOT to consider fencing on bridges known to be suicide hot spots.
PennDOT also is required to consider installing protective fencing on overpasses where there is a history of objects being dropped from the bridge onto the roadway.
“This bill will undoubtedly improve the safety of our transportation infrastructure and help further protect pedestrians and motorists alike,” Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said in a released statement.
Yaw has cited a July 2014 incident along Interstate 80 in Union County for the need for protective fencing. Sharon Budd of Uniontown, Ohio, was a passenger in a car when a 4-pound rock was tossed from the Gray Hill Road overpass and smashed through the windshield of her vehicle and struck her in the face. Budd survived the incident; however, she sustained significant, lasting injuries.
Yaw previously noted the rock also struck a tractor-trailer. He added that the overpass did not meet the state DOT’s criteria for protective fencing.
According to reports, four teenagers were sentenced to prison for their roles in the rock throwing.
Yaw has pointed out that the Ohio Department of Transportation has adopted a similar rule.
The Pennsylvania DOT estimated that adding fencing to the state’s nearly 4,000 overpasses would cost $200 million. The agency has already spent $3 million over the past two years to add protective fencing on more than 70 bridges. The agency estimates it will spend another $2.1 million on protective fencing along bridges in the next fiscal year.
A House bill still active at the statehouse covers incidents when a person throws an object at occupied vehicles.
Currently, anyone found guilty of throwing rocks and other dangerous objects at vehicles face misdemeanor charges.
HB1485 would increase the penalty for such actions to a felony.
“The current misdemeanor grading does not sufficiently take into account the severity of the behavior or the risk of death or serious bodily injury involved,” Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, wrote in a memo to lawmakers. “My legislation will make it a felony of the third degree.”
Baker referred to an incident in his district where two men near a construction zone threw rocks and steel rebar at passing vehicles. He said at least six vehicles were significantly damaged.
He also mentioned a 2016 incident in Bucks County where bricks and rocks were thrown from an overpass. One driver was injured, and three large trucks were extensively damaged.
“Between the danger to the driver from the object itself going through the windshield and the likelihood of causing an accident, it isn’t difficult to imagine how a ‘prank’ like this could become deadly very quickly.”
The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee.
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