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I-81 Corridor Coalition in Hagerstown for annual meeting

March 30, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Traffic moves north on Interstate 81 near the Md. 144 overpass near Hagerstown.
File photo

Stretching 855 miles through six states from New York to Tennessee, Interstate 81 is the most important transportation artery in the region and keeping it flowing safely and efficiently are among the goals of the I-81 Corridor Coalition, which met in Hagerstown this week.

About 100 people met Monday and Tuesday to discuss issues affecting the corridor at the coalition’s annual meeting, said Carolyn Blanton, the administrative assistant for the coalition.

“There is no transportation artery more important for commerce than I-81” in the eastern United States, said Mike Ross, President of the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp. “I-95 moves a lot more people, but I-81 moves a lot more cargo.”

Accommodating that truck traffic was one topic of interest to Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas, a coalition representative for Pennsylvania.

“The things we discussed were best management practices for enhanced safety,” he said, in particular, how to manage traffic in an emergency.

States on the corridor can learn something from Virginia in that regard, Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said. As an example, she cited Virginia for creating a free cell phone app that alerts drivers on traffic conditions along its 325-mile stretch of the interstate.

“West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania need to get with Virginia and find out how to get that app going,” Callaham said.

More communication between those states would also be beneficial, allowing drivers to know of traffic interruptions farther down the highway so that drivers can make decisions on alternate routes, Callaham said.

Callaham attended a break-out session on safety that pointed out the frequency of fatal accidents involving trucks.

Truckers are allowed by law to drive about 10 hours a day before having to stop for rest, but the incidents of accidents tend to be highest in the first hour after that rest period, Callaham said. Representatives from states discussed measures to mitigate that in the areas near rest stops and truck stops, including more speed enforcement and higher police presence, she said.

The second day of the meeting included a tour of the Norfolk Southern intermodal facility near Greencastle, Pa., Thomas said. Virtually everything will be transported by truck at some point between producer and consumer, but more intermodal facilities could divert long-haul trucks off the interstate, increasing safety and reducing pollution and fuel consumption, he said.

Of the 50,000 or more vehicles that pass through Washington County’s 12-mile section of the interstate, about 15,000 are trucks, according to a 2012 study prepared for the departments of transportation for the six corridor states.

Widening I-81 to three — or preferably four lanes in each direction — and improving the 10 interchanges in that compact area is the priority capital improvements for Maryland’s section of the Interstate, Callaham said. That would increase capacity while improving traffic flow and safety, she said.

That will require federal approval and funding, Callaham said.

The coalition is made up of local local governments, metropolitan planning orgranizations and state transportation departments from the six states, along with private sector and nonprofit organizations, according to its web site.

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