Lawmakers to hold hearings on Turnpike storm snafu

The Pennsylvania National Guard was still alert for storm residue on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re not done yet, not completely relaxed,” said Acting Adjutant General Anthony Carrelli, the new head of the Pennsylvania National Guard.

He was in the National Guard’s year-old Emergency Operations Center at Fort Indiantown Gap, Lebanon County. Last weekend, the intensity level was much more intense. Carrelli says 326 soldiers and airmen statewide tackled 19 storm-related missions and he was pleased with their efforts.

“We were able to put guardsmen in the right places to ease suffering and probably save some lives,” Carrelli said.

Carrelli became the acting head of the guard about ten days before the blizzard hit and spent most of the weekend in the control center.

“Were people inconvenienced? Sure,” Carrelli answered his own question about the blizzard’s toll. “But we got over three feet of snow in some areas. There were gonna be some traffic accidents, gonna be some backups.”

The biggest backup happened on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Two jack-knifed tractor trailers in western PA caused 500 stranded vehicles, some of them stuck for 30 hours.

“It’s an embarrassment to Pennsylvania,” said Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) who chairs the Transportation Committee and promised a hearing on the incident. The Pennsylvania House has already scheduled its hearing for February 10.

Governor Wolf, who does not have jurisdiction over the Turnpike, said Monday that part of the problem was caused by a storm that came earlier and further west than originally expected.

Rafferty, who is the endorsed Republican running for Attorney General, isn’t buying it.

“To hear the governor say he was surprised at this, I don’t know what the meteorologist he hired was doing. All the meteorologists in my area were saying it’s coming and we’re getting more than we first projected. I think we have to take a good hard look at the system all the way through to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Wolf said he’s proud of the state’s response to the motorists stranded on the Turnpike once it learned of the problem. In fact, ABC 27 cameras were in PEMA headquarters at the height of the storm Saturday as the governor stressed to National Guard men and women the importance of helping those stuck drivers.

The Turnpike is reviewing the incident and says it will cooperate with any legislative hearings.

Governor Wolf seemed less receptive. On a radio show Tuesday morning he said that lawmakers are free to hold hearings on the Turnpike incident but the time would be better spent solving the budget that remains unfinished.

Carrelli doesn’t wade into politics and said he doesn’t have any power over whether to keep roads open or close them. But he does welcome any review of his team’s performance.

“I’m sure every time we’ve done anything you can always look back on it and say. ‘Oh we could’ve done this better, could’ve done that better.’ And that will happen in this case.”

“We gotta find out what coordination broke down,” Rafferty said. “Should we have been better prepared in the beginning knowing this monster storm was coming to Pennsylvania? Should trucks have been restricted to one lane or something like that? There’s things the Turnpike has to look at and have them report back to us and we can work on better management going forward.”

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