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PennDOT: Crash rate on I-78 stretch 71% above state average

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: May 13 2014 02:58:39 PM CDT
Updated On: May 14 2014 04:45:09 AM CDT

PennDOT has released some alarming statistics about the stretch of Interstate 78 on which three people were killed in a fiery, chain-reaction crash Monday afternoon.

GREENWICH TWP., Pa. -

Dental records are being used to help identify three people killed in a fiery chain-reaction crash on Interstate 78.

State police said it could take a week or two before their investigation is complete.

Interstate 78 was shut down for hours Monday after a tractor trailer collided with a vehicle, which caused a pileup on the eastbound side of the highway, just east of the Route 737 interchange in Greenwich Township, Berks County.

Some people are calling that stretch of Interstate 78 a death trap. The highway was designed decades ago, but the traffic volume has skyrocketed.

First responders told 69 News they are called out there many times a year.

"It's tough, you don't forget it," said Dep. Chief Tim Behm, Kutztown Fire Company.

Behm still could not get the images of the mangled mess out of his head. He was the first on scene Monday at the interstate inferno that killed three people and sent 12 to the hospital.

"That stretch of highway is dangerous, for some reason. I can't tell you why," said Behm.

According to PennDOT, aggressive driving is a major issue with drivers speeding, weaving and tailgating in a congested area.

"The fatality rate is 41 percent above the state average and the overall crash rate is 71 percent above the state average," said Ron Young, spokesman for PennDOT.

Young said the hills, combined with heavy truck traffic, add to the danger.

Two long-term projects, totaling about $200 million, are now on the table. Truck climbing lanes will be added on hills in both directions as well as a shoulder to make it safe for someone to pull over out of the way.

"The improvements are being made for safety to handle the additional traffic and bring outdated infrastructure up to current standards," said Young.

Behm is hoping the improvements help because he responds to that stretch of 78 way too often, and Monday's crash is one he will never forget.

"I would say it's the worst I've seen. I don't know I've seen anything worse," said Behm.

The first project, which will reconstruct the interchange at Route 737, will start in 2015. The second project will begin about six months to a year after that.

The Berks County district attorney is involved in the investigation to determine if the tractor trailer driver, who police said caused the crash, will or will not be charged.