Officials in Hanover and Fairview townships and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation have a simple and potentially life-saving message: Slow down when traveling on Route 309 from Mountain Top to Ashley.
Excessive speed and aggressive driving are the biggest factors that lead to crashes, according to a traffic study by PennDOT.
We've had numerous responses in our little section of 309 and Hanover Township has far more responses, said Mountain Top Hose Co. President David Hourigan. All responses are for people going too fast for conditions.
It seems we're up there all the time for accidents, said Hanover Township Police Chief Al Walker. Add these little snow squalls and it's 10 times worse because of location, change of temperature and the nature of the roadway.
Hanover Township police have investigated car wrecks nearly every day on Route 309, including three crashes within four hours on a recent Saturday.
It is not uncommon for police to close Route 309 while investigating a crash.
The number of vehicle wrecks on the highway as it twists through what is known as Solomon Gap on Penobscot Mountain has increased to 115 crashes in a five-year period from 2007 to 2011.
During the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, there were 92 crashes.
Statistics for 2012 were not available from PennDOT.
Three people died in crashes in 2011. There were no fatalities in 2010 and one fatality in each year from 2007 to 2009.
We recently did a traffic study on the area and found that excessive speed was the biggest issue on this road, PennDOT spokesman James May said. As part of the study, we made sure that the pavement friction was what it should be – and it was. We upgraded and added more chevrons and signage. We have a message board at the top and bottom of the mountain telling people to slow down.
According to the Pennsylvania Internet Traffic Monitoring System, nearly 10,500 vehicles travel south on Route 309 from the Interstate 81 junction in Ashley to Route 437 in Fairview Township, and more than 6,100 vehicles travel north on the same stretch.
Aside from speeding, weather and road conditions are major factors.
Hourigan said there are certain areas on Route 309 that are hidden from direct sunlight due to steep embankments and trees. The sun can melt snow and ice in one area, causing the runoff in the shadows to quickly freeze, Hourigan said.
The sun is blocked on that road and when the road is glazed over during the day, the sun can't melt the snow and ice, he said.
May said PennDOT has dedicated one plow truck to Route 309 during snow and ice storms while a second truck handles 309 and a secondary road in the area.
Walker said his department conducted a speed enforcement blitz on Route 309 last year. He said a danger exists because there are limited areas where police can set up speed enforcement equipment and where a motorist and police can safely pull over.
The speed limit is 45 mph on Route 309.