NTSB delivers safety recommendations following 2018 fatality

August 25, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission “didn’t sufficiently prioritize repairs” leading up to a 2018 crash that killed a truck driver in the Lehigh Tunnel, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

NTSB recently released a report on the fatality crash and issued two safety recommendations.

At about 6 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2018, Howard Sexton, age 70, entered the Lehigh Tunnel on southbound Interstate 476 in East Penn Township. According to the report, the truck was about a thousand feet into the tunnel when it struck a 10-foot section of overhead electrical conduit that was hanging lower because of a failed support system. The conduit reportedly crashed through the windshield and struck the driver. The truck eventually struck a shoulder guardrail. Sexton died in the crash. No other injuries or damaged vehicles were reported.

Investigation

Five days after the crash, NTSB and Federal Highway Administration investigators examined portions of the conduit and suspension system throughout the tunnel.

“Investigators found corroded, fractured and missing transverse conduit supports at multiple locations,” the NTSB wrote. “In the area of the crash, nine transverse support struts had failed for a total collapsed length of about 60 feet. The 10-foot section that impacted the truck was part of the collapsed 60-foot section. Damage to the conduit support system in this section appeared to include preexisting damage and damage caused by the collision.”

NTSB said the support system likely failed because of a fracture to “extensively corroded” PVC-coated steel support struts, allowing the electrical conduit to drop into the truck’s path.

In its report, NTSB noted that the steps Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission took before the crash to replace the system were consistent with available guidance. However, the NTSB said the commission didn’t sufficiently prioritize repairs to protect the motoring public’s safety.

NTSB Recommendations

“The National Tunnel Inspection Standards implemented by the Federal Highway Administration are essential for tunnel safety, and the findings of this crash can be used to improve the guidance the standards provide to tunnel owners,” said Robert Molloy, NTSB’s director of the Office of Highway Safety.

According to NTSB’s recommendations, the FHWA should notify the owners of the tunnel about the findings of the report with an emphasis on inspecting, documenting and properly repairing the corrosion that caused the support system to fail. NTSB also recommends that FHWA update its manual on tunnels to include an emphasis on classifying this type of corrosion as a critical finding that requires immediate action.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.