Two years after the death of a truck driver in the Lehigh Tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued new safety recommendations.
On August 20, the NTSB issued two safety recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) based on the agency’s completed investigation into the death of 70 year old truck driver Howard Sexton.
Sexton was killed on February 21, 2018, in the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Lehigh Tunnel after he struck a conduit hanging from the ceiling of the tunnel only by electrical wires.
NTSB describes the fatal crash:
The truck was about 1,000 feet into the 4,379-foot long I-476, Lehigh Tunnel no. 2 — located in Carbon County, Pennsylvania — when it struck a 10-foot section of overhead electrical conduit. The support system for the conduit had previously failed, leaving it hanging by electrical wires a little less than 9 feet above the tunnel’s right lane. The conduit impacted the truck’s windshield and struck the driver. The semitractor-trailer continued through the tunnel and after exiting, moved left, crossed onto the median and struck a guardrail. The impact with the guardrail redirected the semitractor-trailer across the southbound lanes and to the right shoulder of the highway where the truck struck the shoulder guardrail. The semitractor-trailer came to rest along the right shoulder of the highway, about 5,240 feet after striking the conduit. The truck driver died in the crash, no other injuries or damaged vehicles were reported.
Following the fatal crash, NTSB and Federal Highway Administration investigators found “corroded, fractured, and missing transverse conduit supports at multiple locations.”
The NTSB ultimately determined that long-term corrosion on the support system that held the conduit to the ceiling of the tunnel was the probable cause of the fatal accident. They also determined that the corrosion had been discovered in 2016 and that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission was in the process of hiring a contractor to replace the the corroded straps.
The NTSB also said that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should have acted more quickly to complete necessary repairs to the tunnel to protect the safety of the motoring public.
The NTSB’s safety recommendations based on the investigation call on the FHWA to contact tunnel owners with details on the fatal Lehigh Tunnel crash to emphasize the importance of maintenance of nonstructural elements above the roadways. The NTSB also calls on the FHWA to update their Tunnel Operations, Maintenance, Inspection, and Evaluation Manual and their inspection training courses to emphasize locating corrosion in nonstructural elements.