Legislators Asking Why Turnpike Speed Restriction Was Lifted

Legislators Asking Why Turnpike Speed Restriction Was Lifted

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PHILADELPHIA -

In the aftermath of a massive pileup on the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bensalem, some Pennsylvania legislators are already asking why a 45-mph speed restriction was lifted Friday morning.

As many as 50 cars were involved in the pileup, and dozens were injured in crashes on Interstate 276 near the Philadelphia Interchange.

FOX 29's Bruce Gordon and Jeff Cole spoke to Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission representatives in separate interviews.

VIDEOS: Cole On Conversation With Spokeswoman | Gordon Interviews Turnpike Spokesman

Cole reported that the turnpike's website says, "As anticipated, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission lifted the 45-mph speed limit restriction and the band on certain commercial and non-commercial trailers traveling the entire turnpike at 6 a.m. today."

It was two hours later at 8:04 a.m. when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's @511PAPhilly Twitter account posted, "Speed Limit Restored on Philadelphia Regional Expressways."

Cole spoke Friday morning to Renee Vid Colburn, from the turnpike's press office, and asked if they were rethinking the speed change in light of the crash, and she indicated they were not.

Colburn said members of their "Traffic Ops Center" looked at the condition of the turnpike Friday morning and they thought it was sufficient for the speed limit to go up. They say the road had been treated, they believed that the slush had mostly been moved off the roads, and the turnpike was in a position for speeds to be lifted.

Colburn said they did not immediately know the cause of the pileups, and state police will investigate.

She also told Cole that, after the cleanup, the turnpike commission will try to assess what went wrong, how this happened and react by making any changes that are needed.

Later, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo told Gordon near the two-mile incident scene that it may have in fact been 10 to 12 different crashes that occurred.

"It's too soon to speculate about what may have led to this crash, this accident," DeFebo said. "You know, the turnpike had been plowed. It could have been wet. We don't really know a lot of information, at this time, about what the exact conditions were in this specific stretch."

It's possible that melting snow could have refrozen at some point, DeFebo said.

He called it "a larger, regional decision" to lift the speed limit restriction and said it was made looking at huge areas of the turnpike, noting that making changes to short segments would be difficult.

"When we replace the normal speed limit, we do so with the caution that, listen, you have to be alert for changing conditions, you have to … monitor the conditions of the pavement for the specific local area that you're traveling in."

Noting that he had just driven in across the turnpike from the state capital, he noted, "My entire trip here from Harrisburg was pretty smooth sailing."

To questions about raising the limits, DeFebo said, "Well, I think it's really too soon to say that it was premature. Again, it boils down to responsibility of motorists. That's our job when we're driving on the roads to monitor the conditions and to be sure that we are adjusting our speeds that are appropriate to whatever the driving conditions are."

But Cole reported that two legislators are already planning to ask questions.

State Rep. Michael P. McGeehan (D-173), the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said he has been riding the turnpike for 25 years and he thinks it's very well maintained.

But McGeehan said he wants to speak to the turnpike commission to ask why the restriction was lifted.

State Sen. Robert Tomlinson (R-6) told Cole that he, too, is surprised to hear the restriction was lifted and wants to raise some questions with the turnpike commission and PennDOT to try to figure out if the right call might have been to keep it in place.

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