Making Harrisburg's Capital Beltway
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
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
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
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