Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Omens disrupt highway commute

Omens disrupt highway commute

By Mike Seate
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

For pedal-to-the-metal fun, few areas of the city can beat the long stretch of East Ohio Street between the McKees Rocks Bridge and the North Shore.

Most of the road is elevated, with no place for police to stage a speed trap, so motorists treat the area like the Finish Line stretch at Indianapolis International Speedway.

I stopped speeding there after seeing an accident that could have been deadly for anyone driving close by. A few months ago, I noticed telltale signs of a crash involving a trailer towing hot tar and the Jersey barriers along this part of Route 65.

It's enough to scare a motorcyclist into riding the bus on future commutes. Hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention every time I ride past.

The accident scene announces itself with several small patches of black tar on the pavement. From there, moving inbound toward the city, a long streak of black unfurls along the pavement, snaking from side to side as the bubbling, hot tar splashed around like a rush-hour commuter's latte.

It's obvious from the marks that the tar wagon swayed and pitched. Hypnotized by morbid thoughts of what could have happened to anyone nearby unfortunate enough to be caught driving a convertible, motorcycle or open-window car, my thoughts are usually interrupted by that final, massive tar spill against the Jersey barrier where the trailer came to an abrupt stop.

As driver safety warnings go, this is pretty vivid, though I'm afraid most people traveling this stretch are too preoccupied with arriving at their destinations on time to notice.

Problems with trailers seem to continue.

On Dec. 16, Michelle Kott, 36, of Ellsworth was killed and her two passengers injured when a utility trailer broke loose from its truck and rolled out of control on Route 19 in Washington County.

In July 2007, a rig truck carrying tar spilled its load on Route 136 and closed the road for 11 hours. Miraculously, no one was hurt, but you don't need to be a coroner to imagine what could have happened if the crash occurred during a high-traffic period.

Enforcement of trailer safety has improved since the April 2006 crash in Richland, when a wood chipper detached from a truck and killed three members of a Cranberry family.

But as the telltale markings along East Ohio Street reveal each time I pass by, local work crews and commercial vehicle operators still have a long way to go before making sure the rest of us are safe from their negligence.

No comments: