I-81 Corridor: Focus on Safety

Commissioner Jim Hertzler took the floor during the June 29, 2018 Harrisburg Area Transportation Study Coordination Committee (HATS) meeting. Commissioner Hertzler voiced his concerns regarding the mounting issues surrounding the I-81 corridor in Cumberland County and the surrounding region.

i-81 Corridor Cumberland County2

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners is working for residents, businesses and visitors who travel through the County on Interstate 81. 

There is no denying that ever-increasing traffic volume, combined with rising congestion, has resulted in more traffic jams, more accidents, and more and more traffic injuries and deaths.

I-81, which runs the entire length of Cumberland County, carries up to 70,000 or more vehicles per day

Truck volume, most of it interstate commerce, has tripled on I-81 over the past 30 years.  As much as one third of the traffic on I-81 is trucks, double the 15 percent that was anticipated when I-81 was first constructed.

Many of the interchanges and ramps were designed in the 1960s, and no longer meet current design standards and can’t support traffic levels. The Commissioners have asked the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) to:

  • Secure funding to engineer, design and widen I-81 to three lanes in both directions in Cumberland County;
  • Prioritize and expedite the engineering and design work for widening the interstate in Cumberland County from the Middlesex exit to the Allen Road exit, due to its increasing safety problems; and
  • Until funds can be generated to widen the interstate, complete a safety study and make recommendations on interim safety improvements to decrease crashes and reduce congestion.

As a major corridor for the United State's interstate commerce, I-81 needs to be prioritized for capacity expansion to meet the traffic needs of both today and tomorrow. Our federal elected officials, in particular, need to stop talking about infrastructure investment and start acting.

In the meantime, it’s also been thirteen years since PennDOT completed its 2005 I-81 Widening Study, that recommended the widening of I-81 “as necessary to achieve an acceptable level of service” to handle projected traffic volumes.  

As noted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Pennsylvania’s enactment of Act 89 five years ago – which has provided significant additional dollars for road and bridge maintenance and repair – “was a good first step” but simply inadequate to meet the need for capacity expansion and redesign of substandard interchanges.

“Without construction of new roadways and lanes to increase capacity,” the ASCE wrote, “Pennsylvania’s roadways will continue to create congestion and delays” costing Pennsylvania’s drivers “over $3.7 billion per year in lost time and wasted fuel.”

This is about our region’s future.  This is about our economy. 

But, most importantly, this is about public safety.