Wysox Township’s “Third Rail”
From the first couple of times that I visited New York City and had an opportunity to ride its famous subways, I recall hearing the warning “stay away from the third rail,” this in reference to the electric inner rail of each set of subway tracks. Urban legends abounded of people getting onto the tracks for one reason or another and being killed or seriously burned after coming into contact with the high-voltage line.
As I recall, Route 6 through Wysox was not a particularly difficult stretch of roadway to traverse even a decade ago. This was due in large part to a convenient center lane, from which vehicles could make a left-hand turn with relative safety. In the past three years, however, the left-turn-only lane that stretches almost contiguously from Route 187 to the Memorial Bridge at the Susquehanna River, has been misused by more frustrated and impatient motorists each day, and the worst may be yet to come.
“Somebody’s going to get rear-ended or hit head-on,” said Wysox Fire Company chief Brett Keeney, who is grateful that accidents in the center lane that is interrupted only by the Bradford Towne Centre intersection have so far been minor, though plentiful. “Most people don’t look in their rear-view mirror before they pull into the lane,” he added in reference to drivers preparing to make a safe and legal left turn who are unaware that a impatient motorist is coming up the center lane quickly, using it as a passing lane or simply entering it far in advance of his or her own intended turn.
In the past few months, I have seen some crazy things involving the center lane that have me wondering how I have been lucky enough to so far avoid getting caught up in the insane maneuvers or bearing witness to a horrible crash that seemed imminent. My own experiences and a growing number of police reports that have come across my desk concerning inappropriate use of the left-turn-only lane prompted me to contact both Keeney and PennDOT for their perspectives on the situation.
“While the roadway has not changed in the physical sense, the volume of traffic using the roadway has,” stated PennDOT’s assistant traffic engineer Bill Houpt. The state agency recently conducted a traffic study of the entire stretch to see what might be done to prevent daily gridlock. The results and any solutions to the problem will not likely be produced until next summer.
“As volumes on any roadway increase, the actual number of crashes would be expected to increase,” Houpt continued. “Drivers have the ultimate decision and choice as to their behavior behind the wheel. Most choose to drive in a responsible and respectable manner. Those who do not create a hazard for all road users regardless of the road they travel.”
“I see people passing on it all the time,” said Keeney, a fact corroborated by police and arrest reports. Unfortunately, many of the people listed in these reports are also intoxicated, a dangerous element that I’d prefer to not even calculate into the equation at this time. As Houpt remarked, most of the people using this stretch of Route 6 are responsible drivers. They’re just becoming more impatient with time and see the center lane as their own remedy to a traffic debacle that seems worse all the time.
Keeney related that he has seen numerous motorists pull left out of the plaza and ride the center lane almost all of the way to the bridge before pulling back into the regular lane of traffic, regardless of the fact that there are many businesses and homes on the north side of the highway for which residents and customers might pull into the center lane from the opposite direction to access.
In that sense, the left-turn-only lane in Wysox Township has become the community’s “third rail,” the innocent use of it potentially deadly. With any resolutions from PennDOT at least a year away, I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t some things that could be done in the meantime to avert tragedy.
I recall a series of signs that used to greet motorists as they entered Wysox Township on Route 6 from the east, warning drivers to avoid tailgating because of a potentially high crash rate in the area. The ultimate solution to the Route 6/Wysox Township dilemma—while many months away—might include adding yet another lane to the roadway where possible to alleviate congestion or at least breaking up the center lane with signage and curbing to limit crossovers and eliminate the option for using it as a passing lane.
While the road surface crumbles and the line markings fade in advance of a more permanent fix, could there at least be some new signage erected that warns drivers that misuse of the center lane is both dangerous and a ticket-able offense? In the meantime, as always, take a deep breath, keep your eyes on the road, and be careful out there.