11 Investigates wrong-way crashes on local roads and what’s being done to prevent them

PITTSBURGH — Channel 11 Morning News covers what seem like a lot of wrong-way crashes. That’s because a lot of them happen in the early morning hours.

Anchor Jennifer Tomazic came upon the aftermath of one just minutes after it happened.

Ever since then, she wanted to find out what’s being done in Pennsylvania to stop wrong-way drivers.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission told her there were 56 wrong-way crashes in our region in the last five years, likely on a road that you drive on.

“Which means if you’re driving your vehicle down that road, you are in potentially in a lot of danger and harm and or possibly death,” said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Rocco Gagliardi.

A local woman vividly recalls the smallest details from the night that changed her life.

“The last thing I thought before impact was ‘I’m dead,’” said Jordan Rogachesky of Greensburg, “and then I woke up.”

On Sept. 22, 2022, she was driving home to take her dog out after work on Route 30 in Hempfield Township.

“And when I came around the bend, there was another driver in my lane and I didn’t have time to react,” said Jordan.

A driver going the wrong way hit Jordan head-on on the divided highway near Tollgate Hill Road, according to state police.

Nine broken ribs and two legs broken from hip to heel prevented her from getting out of her car.

But when help finally got Jordan to the hospital, she wasn’t thinking about herself.

“I just kept screaming at them that I was pregnant,” Jordan recalls. “Our baby didn’t make it, though.”

Jordan is missing that piece in her new reality that’s included countless surgeries and relearning to walk.

She still drives.

“But there is there’s a lot of anxiety,” said Jordan.

She’s sharing her story in hopes of spurring change on Pennsylvania roads in stopping wrong-way drivers.

A change we did find on the same road as Jordan’s crash, Route 30, about 15 miles east: wrong-way signs at the intersection of Route 30 and 217 near Idlewild. They have LED lights that light up red when a wrong-way driver is detected.

They were installed sometime after Lt. Eric Eslary of Ligonier was killed while patrolling Route 30 in the early morning hours of May 2015 by a wrong-way driver.

“From the research that we have, that is probably where that driver started going the wrong way,” said Bryan Walker, district plans engineer for PennDOT District 12.

Jennifer asked Walker, on a priority list, as far as signage and implementation, where wrong-way driving is for PennDOT.

“We take every crash seriously. We don’t want to see any fatalities,” said Walker.

Channel 11 has learned that LED wrong-way signs are the most advanced technology our region’s roads currently have to stop wrong-way drivers.

“Especially if our goal is to make our roads as safe as possible, technology has got to be a tool in the toolbox,” said Domenic D’Andrea, director of the Office of Transportation Planning at Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

He let Channel 11 in on more initiatives to make our roads safer.

PennDOT installed low-cost and low-tech countermeasures like larger do-not-enter signs and higher visibility pavement markings on 121 Interstate ramps.

Walker adds that his PennDOT district can add oversize signs to make them more visible to drivers, in addition to attaching red reflective tape to select posts to get drivers’ attention.

Delineators, or hip-height posts, can be added with reflective tape and so can reflective pavement markers. Walker says road lenses can be installed red so a driver going the wrong way can see they’re going the wrong way.

“Safety is PennDOT’s most important priority. Even one fatality is one too many. According to PennDOT data, there were 53 crashes on expressways involving wrong-way drivers last year, resulting in 15 fatalities and 18 suspected serious injuries. Annually, PennDOT reviews crash data to determine locations that would make good candidates for low-cost safety countermeasures, such as enhanced signage, pavement markings, and delineation,” Jennifer Kuntch, deputy communications director for PennDOT said in a statement to Channel 11.

Walker told us they put “Do Not Enter” signs in places where there has been a crash history or complaints. They can add a second one if there are issues in that spot.

He offered this tip for drivers to make sure they’re going in the right direction:

“If you’re going down the road, you want to see yellow (line) on your left side and white (line) on your right.”

Kuntch tells Channel 11 wrong-way drivers represent a low percentage of total crashes in the state. While law enforcement and transportation officials agree, the outcome of a wrong-way crash is typically more devastating than other crashes.

Jordan is living through it.

“I would love to see something done just so that no one else has to have that worry in their head,” said Jordan.

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