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Making Harrisburg's Capital Beltway The Safeway
For motorists driving on the Capital Beltway surrounding Harrisburg, PA, the encounter has often been a white-knuckle experience. Thanks to the efforts of the Capital Beltway Advisory Committee, this type of encounter may become less common. The volunteer efforts of this group are making a difference in helping to transform the beltway into the safeway around Harrisburg. It's helping to reduce crashes, injuries and deaths.

The Capital Beltway Advisory Committee was formed in the aftermath of three high-profile crashes that claimed the lives of five people on the Interstate 81 portion of the Capital Beltway in February 2000. There was recognition then among many people that "business as usual" would no longer be acceptable. The beltway needed special attention. Prompted by concerned citizens, State Representative Ron Marsico, State Transportation Secretary Brad Mallory, and the Pennsylvania State Police joined forces to help form the Capital Beltway Advisory Committee (CBAC) to focus more attention on safety on the Capital Beltway.

The 26-mile Capital Beltway is the combination of three highways that surround Harrisburg, the capital city of Pennsylvania. It includes Interstate 81, Interstate 83, and State Route 581. Traffic volumes on several sections of the beltway exceed 100,000 vehicles per day, with very heavy truck traffic.

A goal of the committee was to facilitate communication and cooperation among partnering agencies. "The biggest obstacle to the program was opening a direct line of communication between partners," said Kimberly Morewood, former Safety Press Officer for PENNDOT who helped establish the CBAC. The CBAC includes representatives from the trucking industry, AAA Central Penn Auto Club, Pennsylvania State Police and the South Central Pennsylvania Highway Safety Network, where members are experts in transportation education, enforcement and engineering.

The initial hurdles were difficult to overcome. They consisted of organizing and uniting different organizations into a unified body. "The reminder of the committee's common goal is what kept us on target," Morewood said. The message was simple: driving behavior should reflect that of a high-volume, truck traffic area. Their vision: "Conduct a high visibility safety campaign targeting the Harrisburg Capital Beltway," was a more difficult challenge.

An intensive public information and educational campaign was created that ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2000 with the goal to change drivers' behavior and reduce the number of crashes during the summer of 2000. "We have to prevent such tragedies in the future, and a big part of doing that is with awareness and enforcement," Representative Ron Marsico said.

The CBAC held public meetings to obtain feedback and suggestions on ways to improve the highways comprising the beltway. Also used to collect information were comment cards, a website and an email address. Problems cited on the beltway included drivers not operating their vehicles safely, high traffic volumes, unusually high volumes of truck traffic, public perception regarding the lack of enforcement and outdated highway designs.

The campaign included print, television, radio spots and 14 high profile educational events targeted at specific groups. The audiences included local and transient drivers, local residents, commuters, tourists, new residents and new drivers.

The campaign also included events coordinated with local trucking industries, welcome centers, the Harrisburg Senators Baseball team, a local vending company and many more sponsors. To aid in the campaign, the local PENNDOT engineering district activated variable message boards to flash "Drive the SAFEWAY on the Capital Beltway". The CBAC also introduced a "SAFEWAY Surveillance" program, an initiative to perform random observational surveillance of commercial vehicles on the beltway. Letters commending good driving behavior as well as letters noting unsafe driving practices are sent to companies of vehicles observed on the beltway.

The campaign this past year was well received and produced positive results - including a decrease in fatalities by 67%, injuries by 7%, and crashes by 16%. At the conclusion of the pilot, the CBAC developed recommendations to improve safety in four areas - in legislation, education, engineering and enforcement. Legislative recommendations included pushing for an increase in the number of patrols assigned to the beltway. The CBAC also encourages stronger partnerships between local police departments in order to decrease speed among motorists before they enter the beltway. The education program continues into this year, including a partnership with Clear Channel Broadcasting to promote seat belt usage on the beltway.

"What we're dealing with is a primary public health concern. Accomplishing a sustained decrease in crashes and improving awareness in highway safety is at the heart of the committee's efforts," Morewood explained. Through the involvement of active volunteers and the development of strong partnerships, the CBAC is helping to make the Capital Beltway the Safeway around Harrisburg.

For more information concerning the Capital Beltway Advisory Committee, contact Greg Penny, PENNDOT Community Relations Coordinator for south central Pennsylvania at (717) 787-1446 or by email at pennygs@dot.state.pa.us




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