Winter storm leads to traffic jam

By Liz Kerstetter
February 22, 2007

Wichita Eagle/MCT

“I was a lucky one,” Christina Cosma said of her latest misfortune. Cosma was smack in the middle of a traffic jam that could only begin to be cleared with the help of the National Guard.

During Wednesday’s winter storm roads in Hamburg, Pa. became slick and a small backup began on Interstate 78 early Wednesday morning. Although emergency services were called to help the multiple vehicles who had suffered accidents on I-78, they could not get through the quickly-growing lines of traffic on the four-lane divided highway.

The superintendent of the Pennsylvania State Police, Colonel Jeffrey Miller, said, “It snowed about 8 inches, followed by about one to three more inches of ice and then more snow.” These conditions made it next to impossible for crews to clear the road.

Cosma, who followed the disaster closely from her dorm room at Lebanon Valley College Thursday morning, was surprised that she was even affected by the back-up. “I was planning to go home this weekend and knew the roads might be bad,” Cosma said. “I was aware of the problem on I-78 but I don’t take that route to get home.”

After checking traffic one last time online before leaving campus, Cosma left at 5 p.m. Thursday evening towards her home in Northern New Jersey. “I was only driving for a few miles when I came to a back-up on I-81. After three hours of waiting, we were finally directed off of the nearest exit,” Cosma said. Both directions of Interstate 81 were closing for the night.

By the time cars were finally directed to exit the highway, it was nearing 9 p.m. “I drove to the nearest hotel and tried to get a room. They didn’t have any.” Cosma spent the night camped out in the lobby of a Comfort Inn along with about 20 other travelers.

I-81 and I-78 intersect about 40 miles back from where the initial traffic jams began to take place Wednesday morning. “I thought that if there was a problem, there would have been warnings on the internet or news, at least maybe the radio,” Cosma said.

The State of Pennsylvania is under scrutiny for their seemingly minimal efforts to try to warn drivers of impending back-ups. The entrance ramps to I-78 remained open until Thursday morning, 24 hours after the traffic jams began.

When asked if the disaster could have been averted, the National Guard and PennDot were similar in their answers. Both organizations agreed that Mother Nature took over and there was nothing crews could do to remove the thick ice. Crews laid salt down, but after temperatures dropped below 20 degrees, the effect of the salt was obsolete.

“I was only stuck for a few hours, and I have everything I need to be comfortable with me since I was on my way home,” Cosma said. Many other motorists were stranded for over 20 hours with no food and sometimes no gas to run the heat in their cars.

Cosma returned back to her dorm room in the morning and never made it home. “It sucks but I try to be thankful. It could have been much, much worse,” Cosma said.

Liz Kerstetter

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