State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Authorities, lawmakers point to communication breakdown in Turnpike pile-up

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 11, 2014 4:07 PM
pile_up_AP Photo-Matt Rourke.jpg

Photo by AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is resolving to revisit communication procedures after last month's chain-reaction pile-up 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 February 14: overnight snow and rainfall that began to re-freeze 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."

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

Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), chairman of Transportation Committee, acknowledged his limitations in responding to the pile-up.

"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 pile-up last month on a stretch of I-80 in Clearfield County.

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