Governor says response to I-78 stranded motorists 'unacceptable'

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 2/16/2007

Hundreds of tractor trailers and four-wheelers were stuck on a 50-mile stretch of Pennsylvania’s Interstate 78 this week, many of whom were stranded for 24 hours because of multiple accidents on the snow and ice-covered highway.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell criticized his state’s response to the accidents, calling it “an almost total breakdown in communication,” according to The Associated Press.

Edward Maloney, a Pennsylvania State Police spokesman, told Land Line that 12 agencies coordinated a response to the accidents.

The pileup began after 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, when the first of several tractor-trailers jack-knifed on I-78 in eastern Pennsylvania, as freezing rain and snow was covering the highway.

After authorities cleared some of the wrecked vehicles, trucks behind them were unable to gain traction to move forward, clogging the highway for 50 miles. Conditions became so bad, fire and police vehicles became stuck on entrance ramps to I-78 and troopers couldn’t redirect many trucks because side roads near the highway were unable to handle the truck traffic, said Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Linette Quinn.

Quinn said more bad news came after a tanker overturned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, shutting down the largest alternate route for truckers on I-78.

Maloney said some entrances to I-78 were blocked but didn’t remain blocked, and others weren’t blocked at all until Thursday. By that time, however, hundreds of cars and tractors had become stuck in the quagmire, forcing Pennsylvania to call in the National Guard to deliver fuel, food and diapers to motorists.

No major injuries were reported in connection to the accidents, and no crimes were reported among the hundreds of stranded motorists, Maloney said.

Instead, groups of truckers and four-wheeler passengers seemed to work together, Maloney said.

Maloney said he heard media reports that some truck drivers had opened their truck cabs to cold and hungry motorists, and wasn’t surprised due to I-78’s designation as a major trucking route to New Jersey and New York.

“Obviously the truck drivers have the sleeper – they’re pretty much self-sufficient,” Maloney said.

Pennsylvania transportation authorities had cleared Interstate 78 of cars and tractor trailers by Friday. Maloney said state police hoped to open the major trucking route by either late Friday or Saturday.

But Pennsylvania authorities wouldn’t be finished working, Maloney said.

“We’ve also got problems on I-81 and I-80 right now,” he said.

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