Police beef up Route 28 patrols
A 55 percent increase in DUI arrests in the past year and rising numbers of wrecks have state police stepping up roving patrols on Route 28 from Etna to Harmar.
Speed and drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs are making the seven-mile stretch — with seven exits — a more dangerous place, according to state police at Kittanning, who patrol the highway.
Only seven days apart, a 22-year-old Indiana Township man and a 19-year-old Etna woman died in accidents last month in the Sharpsburg and O'Hara sections of the highway.
State police are investigating the causes of those accidents.
Driving the increased state police patrols is the herd of speeding motorists.
Recently, a state trooper in one shift nabbed 22 motorists traveling 20 mph over the 55 mph speed limit, according to Sgt. Darren Burford with state police at Kittanning.
And during a 30-hour security detail on southern Route 28 earlier this month, troopers issued 37 speeding citations, 15 other citations and one DUI.
“People should be aware at this time we're taking a stance of zero tolerance down there,” Burford said. “There's going to be very few warnings issued down there.”
The problems with speeding motorists stem from the sheer number of cars that use that stretch: Average daily traffic from the Etna/Route 8 exit (5) to the Highland Park bridge is 43,000 vehicles and just south of the Harmar exit (11) is 34,000 vehicles, according to PennDOT.
“There's a lot of merging traffic there,” Burford said. “If you're inattentive for a second, then you're going to wreck.”
The overtime patrols on Route 28 will be paid for through PennDOT's statewide distribution of $4.2 million in federal funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Last year, state police made about 40 DUI arrests from Jan. 1 to early March on Route 28 from Etna to Harmar. This year during the same time period, authorities tallied 62 DUI arrests, according to Burford.
Statewide, DUIs went up by 5 percent in the past year, according to Trooper Adam Reed, a spokesman in Harrisburg.
“I don't necessarily know if there are more impaired drivers or better enforcement,” Reed said.
According to West Deer Police Chief Jon Lape, one coordinator of the North Hills DUI task force, whether the numbers are up a little or down, DUI is a persistent, stubborn problem.
The task force had three DUI arrests on March 15 kicking off St. Patrick's Day weekend in the southern portion of Route 28 and Shaler.
“We do see an increasing number of DUIs in our area,” Lape said. “It's not shrinking, let's say that.”
Traditionally, people have been arrested for DUIs early in the morning after leaving a bar; now it's around the clock, and police are finding more people impaired by drugs.
DUI arrests just for alcohol are about the same in Western Pennsylvania but DUIs involving drugs, known as DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) are on the rise, according to Cathy Tress, law enforcement liaison with the nonprofit Pennsylvania DUI Association, which combats drunken driving.
Statewide, alcohol-related crashes decreased from 2005 to 2011, from 13,350 to 11,800. Drug-related crashes increased from close to 2,100 in 2005 to almost 3,100 in 2011 — an almost 48 percent jump.
“Now, the new war is DUID,” Tress said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or firstname.lastname@example.org.