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Police nab 563 drivers in crackdown near Westmoreland County Blind Association

| Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Officials at the Westmoreland County Blind Association will put up an LED sign encouraging motorists to slow down on the stretch of South Main Street in front of its building in Southwest Greensburg.

“I think it's going to make a heck of a difference,” said Larry Helkowski, association president. “It will get people's attention, and it will have our name on the top of it. It will draw attention that we're here and what we do.”

More than a year ago, Helkowski said his clients were at risk of getting hurt on the dangerous “freeway.”

Just a few days ago, one client almost was struck by a motorist who ran a red light at the intersection of Main and Green streets, Helkowski said. The sign will be placed on the side of the building.

The near-miss came in spite of an extended campaign by borough police to target aggressive driving on South Main Street, which is state Route 119.

A total of 563 motorists were cited during the enforcement effort, which ran from June 6 to Sept. 30, Lt. Kris Chappell said. Police found the majority of the infractions near the blind association's building.

“It was mostly in that corridor — I'd say around 75 percent,” Chappell said.

The borough received federal and state grant money to target areas “with aggressive driving, crashes,” Chappell said.At first, many of the stopped drivers came from the Greensburg area. Later on, more out-of-area motorists were cited, Chappell said.

“We got a couple two or three times — the same motorists. But mostly, after the first hit, it went from a lot of Greensburg and Youngwood motorists to out-of-town ones,” Chappell said.

“Most people are just paying,” he added. “We have hearings here and there.”

Many of the stopped motorists had no idea the blind association building was in the area, he said.

“Our main goal was to saturate the area,” Chappell said. “You can cite so many motorists. Just by sitting there, they slow down.”

Chappell said the corridor partly presents problems because one section of the road goes from two lanes down to one near the association's building, where the speed limit is 30 mph.

“I think it's just you come from Youngwood with 45 mph, then gradually go down to 40 to 30 mph, and you have a four-lane highway that turns into a two-lane highway. They're trying to beat everything,” Chappell said.

The blind association will place its LED sign on the Youngwood side of the building.

Problems are especially heightened in the morning when association clients get off Westmoreland County Transit Authority buses, according to clients and police.

Passengers get off the bus on the opposite side of South Main Street from the association building, and too often motorists try to beat the traffic light as the clients cross the street, the clients said.

Over the last few months, state and local officials have taken steps to alert motorists to the presence of visually-impaired pedestrians.

PennDOT has increased the time for pedestrians using the crosswalk at the Main and Green intersection. Orange signs alert motorists there is a crossing ahead for visually-impaired pedestrians.

Helkowski said he ended efforts to install a flashing light after realizing it would be too costly for the borough.

If problems don't ease after the enforcement campaign and the new LED sign is put up — possibly within two weeks — Helkowski might again request the flashing sign, he said.

Motorists must obey the speed limit, not run red lights and follow other rules of the road to reduce the chances of someone being struck, PennDOT officials said.

“I think everything you do improves safety, but ultimately, it's still up to motorists to abide by the speed limit,” PennDOT spokesman Jay Ofsanik said. “People need to slow down.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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