By Elizabeth Perry
Two separate, serious accidents on the McKees Rocks Bridge which occurred on Dec. 17 and Dec. 19 call into question the safety of the traffic configuration created to accommodate bridge construction.
Local first responders warned of the danger and have been meeting with PennDOT on a monthly basis, but the moves they’ve taken to address the problems are inadequate, according to Northwest EMS District Chief Dylan Laplante, which is evident by the recent spate of accidents.
“This is exactly what we said was gonna happen. It’s unfortunate,” Laplante said.
A head-on collision which took place just before 6 p.m. on Dec. 17, killed a 38-year-old Armstrong County woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene. County woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Another person in the same vehicle was transported to the hospital in critical condition and the driver of the other vehicle was in stable condition, according to the Pittsburgh Police. Through chance there happened to be an EMS vehicle on the bridge so the response time to the accident was less than a minute, said Laplante.
“The problem was getting the truck off of the bridge,” Laplante said, explaining that first responders had to back the traffic all the way out to Route 65 so the truck itself could be backed out. Head-on collisions tend to take up two lanes, and there is no place for an EMS vehicle to turn around, he said.
“It’s just not wide enough,” Laplante said.
The crash is still under investigation, and a cause has not been determined yet, said Amanda Miuller, Deputy Public Information Officer for the Pittsburgh Police via email.
Yasmeen Manyisha, a spokesperson for PennDOT said the organization was still waiting for the report to determine what happened on the bridge and if the traffic configuration played any part in the accident.
“Until we have that, we cannot say for sure,” Manyisha said.
Another accident happened just two days later. According to Allegheny County Police, at approximately 2 p.m. on Dec. 19, a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle on the McKees Rocks Bridge. The man was transported to a nearby hospital in critical condition.
Laplante responded to the accident. His squad had been at an emergency in Stowe and were able to reach the victim within two minutes.
Local officials in McKees Rocks and Stowe, including McKees Rocks Chief of Police Rick Deliman and Stowe Police Chief Matt Preininger, requested that the traffic be reduced to one lane. Laplante said they even explored shutting down the bridge completely and rerouting traffic for the duration of construction. PennDOT said that would create too much traffic on the West End Bridge.
Deliman said he could not comment on either accident, as they did not happen in McKees Rocks jurisdiction and he did not respond to either one.
“PennDOT is working on something. It obviously got their attention because of these two accidents,” Deliman said.
Manyisha said PennDOT is implementing measures to increase safety throughout the project and is “continuing to work with law enforcement and other emergency personnel consistently.”
The system which recognizes emergency sirens and controls the traffic signal, shifting the barrier at the Route 65 intersection for turning traffic, and additional signage, including no u-turn signs, were recent additions PennDOT made.
Crews have restriped the roadway lines with higher visibility epoxy and will soon implement reflectors on the center line and along the barriers, additional signage for directing pedestrians to use the path under the bridge, and an additional barrier to close off the pedestrian sidewalk along the bridge.
“As we have observed speeding as a major concern through this work zone, PennDOT has added slow legend curves on the road and will shortly place speed minders in various locations on the bridge,” Manyisha said.
Laplante wanted the public to know first responders were doing everything possible to get injured people to the places they needed to go and they were doing everything they could with what they’d been given.