WPXI-TV: Channel 11 Exclusive: New technology to protect drivers to be installed on major local highway

Channel 11 Exclusive: New technology to protect drivers to be installed on major local highway.

On Channel 11 Morning News, we showed you the impact a wrong-day driver had on a young woman and her growing family.

Channel 11 Anchor Jennifer Tomazic has been pushing for answers about what is being done to stop wrong-way drivers.

Her research led her to a new wrong-way detection system set to be installed a busy route that your family likely drives on.

“Wrong-way crashes represent a small fraction of the total number of crashes however those types of crashes have high severity,” said Domenic D’Andrea, Office of Transportation Planning at Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

In 2021, two people were killed in a wrong-way crash on Route 28 near the East Ohio Street Exit. Later that same year, two cars collided after one of them was going the wrong-way on the ramp to Fox Chapel Road off 28.

These are just two of what the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission says were 15 wrong-way crashes on Route 28 in the last 5 years. It has been identified as a high-priority route when it comes to wrong-way crashes.

Channel 11 pushed PennDOT for information after discovering documents online about a new wrong-way Detection System for Route 28.

PennDOT just released the specifics to Channel 11: It’s a $1 million project that will go from the City of Pittsburgh to the Harmar/910 Interchange. Bids for construction should start in 2024.

It will be an Intelligent Transportation System, meaning sensors, detectors, & cameras will be able to detect wrong-way drivers. Automated alert signs and lights will then be activated to alert the driver they’re going the wrong-way.

The PennDOT Traffic Management Center in Bridgeville will also get an automated alert notification about the wrong-way driver, which will then relay the information to local police. The Traffic Management Center may also put a “wrong-way driver” message on the electronic highway signs on Route 28, alerting other drivers on the road.

PennDOT tells Channel 11 it is also looking at installing what it calls other “driver awareness” signs that could have a static message of “wrong-way DRIVER REPORTED USE CUATION” with a “WHEN FLASHING” plaque mounted. The lights on the top of the sign would be tied into the detection system and automatically activate when a wrong-way driver is detected.

“The department would like to note that the wrong-way detection system and the signage and pavement marking projects on Route 28 do not specifically prevent wrong-way crashes, but will deter and should reduce occurrences,” Steve Cowan, Press Officer for PennDOT District told Channel 11 in a statement.

He also noted that there is already a wrong-way detection system in place on the HOV lanes on I-279. It has strategically positioned video cameras to detect vehicles traveling the wrong-way.

“When a vehicle traveling the opposite direction of what should be the proper travel direction is detected, the camera captures a series of images and automatically lights a series of LED signs showing wrong-way in red text. The system also triggers automated calls, texts, and emails to operators and managers in the Traffic Management Center,” the statement from Cowan said.

“Technology has to be part of the answer,” said D’Andrea, with SPC, the local organization that helps cities and counties access federal transportation funds.

So SPC is going after the technology. It wants to help try to stop wrong-way drivers on more highways you drive on throughout the area. The commission applied for a grant for I-376 which would include funding for a wrong-way driving detection system on the Parkway East from Downtown to Monroeville. It is possible that could link to the electronic overhead signs too, to alert other drivers of a wrong-way driver on the road.

D’Andrea calls the highways flanking Pittsburgh, Route 28, the Parkways East, West, & North and I-79, the highest priority roads for wrong-way driving deterrents.

I-79 specifically is a concern for Trooper Rocco Gagliardi.

“Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen more wrong-way crashes than we would have liked to see,” said Gagliardi whose Troop B patrols I-79, noting that most wrong-way crashes happen late at night or early in the morning.

Gagliardi says state troopers have increased their patrols on I-79 to be in a position to stop wrong-way drivers.

“We try to take our best course of action to stop the driver, even if that means using our own vehicle as the blockage right then and there,” said Trooper Gagliardi.

He says they have a full wall of live PennDOT cameras at their barracks so they can monitor ongoing traffic before calls come in about issues.

“We might notice a disabled vehicle, a crash, and or potentially that wrong-way driver because we’re monitoring those cameras 24/7 so we have eyes to the sky at all times which is really helpful to us,” said Trooper Gagliardi.

In 2022, there were 53 crashes on Pennsylvania expressways involving wrong-way drivers, resulting in 15 fatalities and 18 suspected serious injuries, according to PennDOT data.

It also shows a high percentage of wrong-way crashes involve impaired drivers. Thirty-one of the 53 crashes last year involved an impaired driver, resulting in 13 (out of 15) fatalities, according to PennDOT.

Jennifer Kuntch, Deputy Communications Director of PennDOT, tells Channel 11 in a statement that crashes involving impaired driving have declined substantially in the last 20 years, but preliminary data shows impaired driving crashes will be up this year.

“To combat this issue, PennDOT annually distributes approximately $6 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for impaired driving enforcement. Impaired driving mobilizations include coordinated enforcement as well as education campaigns that aim to eliminate driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

“Despite all this, PennDOT still needs help from motorists. We must work together to make our roadways safer for everyone. Drivers can help save lives by always planning ahead for a sober driver or using public transportation or a ride-share service,” Kuntch said in the statement.

wrong-way crashes also involve older drivers. Last year 9 crashes in Pennsylvania involved someone 65 or older.

“There is no clear-cut factor to look at in terms of stopping driving; however, PennDOT continually seeks to balance the safety of our roadways with the impact of loss of independence, autonomy, and mobility of the older driver,” said PennDOT’s statement.

It provided this link www.PennDOT.pa.gov/Safety for mature driver safety tips and warning signs an older driver and the older driver’s family should look for.

Attorney Christine Zaremski-Young, who works on wrong-way driving cases, would add confusing intersections to the list of reasons for wrong-way driving.

“Whether or not that’s too many signs that are giving conflicting directions or whether it’s a complete lack of any signing giving positive guidance in the way in which to operate a vehicle,” said Zaremski-Young, Chief Legal Officer and Partner at Edgar Snyder and Associates.

View the full article at wpxi.com