PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Fort Pitt, Squirrel Hill and Liberty Tunnels are some of the most congested and potentially dangerous sections of road in our region.
They carry a combined 220,000 drivers a day through our mountains.
On Saturday afternoon, Luke Watson was heading to Bethel Park through the Liberty Tube when his attention was drawn to his rearview mirror by horns honking behind him.
“I saw a car spinning and coming towards us,” Watson said.
And almost before he had a chance to process what was happening, their car was hit.
“I believe we hit the wall and we flipped and landed on its side and spun around and slid for a distance,” Watson said.
Joni Watson says, fortunately, she, Luke, their son and new puppy were all okay but, “I’m just still reeling from the trauma of it, what was at risk and what we were able to walk away from just life is precious,” Joni Watson said.
Pittsburgh Police say after an initial investigation, “A vehicle tried to make a lane change inside the tunnels, clipped one vehicle, swerved into another lane and struck a second vehicle, causing it to roll.”
Penndot District 11 Traffic Engineer Todd Kravits says the Liberty Tunnel accident is a good example of why changing lanes in the tunnel is prohibited.
“There’s really no room for a motorist to maneuver out of the way of an errant vehicle,” Kravits said.
Pennsylvania State Trooper Melinda Bondarenka calls tunnel lane changing “a chronic problem.”
During her days patrolling the Parkway East, she issued a number of tickets to drivers who changed lanes in the tunnel right in front of her.
“It’s expensive. You’ve got a fine that is excess of a hundred dollars and court costs on top of that,” trooper Bondarenka said.
But Bondarenka says a trooper must observe the violation in order to issue the ticket.
Drivers can report violators and a citation will be issued only if the person can identify the driver, the car, its license plate number and be willing to testify in court.
While technology might be capable of catching lane-changers and issuing citations Kravits says, “Right now, automated enforcement is not legal in PA. So that would have to come through legislation.”
So Kravits says drivers must be on heightened awareness for lane-changers in the tunnels.
“All you need is one vehicle to bump another or trying to get out of the way and they bounce off the wall and it’s the innocent victim who gets injured,” Kravits said.
Luke Watson has this message to anyone who might consider changing lanes in a tunnel.
“Think about it that there are people out there who’s loved ones would be utterly devastated if they didn’t make it home,” Luke Watson said.