Median barrier coming to deadly freeway

By Peter H. Milliken


A half-mile-long, 32-inch-high concrete median barrier will be installed this summer in a dangerous section of the Shenango Valley Freeway, a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman said.

On Nov. 8, two Sharon High School football players and a Brookfield man died in a head-on, nighttime collision in that section of the freeway.

The new wall will be designed “to eliminate the more-serious head-on collisions,” Jim Carroll, a PennDOT press officer, said Wednesday.

Last fall’s crash was between an SUV carrying four Sharon High School football players and a pickup truck carrying a father and two young boys.

Killed were Cory Swartz, 18, the SUV driver, and Evan Gill, 17, both high school seniors, and the pickup truck driver, 50-year-old John Zdelar Jr.

Injured were Swartz’s passengers, twin brothers, Craig and Gregg Osman, also senior players; and the 10- and 12-year-old passengers in the pickup truck.

The barrier-installation job will be competitively bid, Carroll said, adding he could not provide a cost estimate yet.

The decision to install a barrier was based on a PennDOT traffic study after the crash, which occurred on an S-curve west of the Oakland Avenue Viaduct, Carroll said.

“We found that 85 percent of the cars were traveling at least 52 mph,” based on a radar study, Carroll said. The speed limit on that portion of the freeway, designated as U.S. Route 62, is 40 mph.

“We’re not the enforcement arm,” Carroll said when asked whether more speed-limit enforcement was needed in that location. PennDOT’s decision was based solely on the highway conditions, he added.

Sharon Police Chief Mike Menster said, however, his officers are planning to step up speed-limit enforcement on that part of the freeway.

He noted that city officials had asked PennDOT to perform the study to determine whether a barrier wall would be beneficial.

“We believe this barrier will reduce the number of head-on collisions in that stretch” of the freeway, Menster said.

Since 2007, there have been five fatalities in the section of the freeway near the viaduct, including the three last fall, he said.

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