There is a lot of talk about the turnpike.
People gripe about the annually escalating tolls and the large amount of debt the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission carries with huge annual payments to the state Department of Transportation for non-turnpike-related services.
But is there enough conversation about how safe the turnpike is?
It is a chat worth having after five people died Sunday and 55 were injured in a twisted mass of metal that included a passenger bus, three tractor-trailers and a car.
In November 2016, the PTC released its latest look into the future, “Long Range Plan 2035: The Bridge to Zero Fatalities.”
That sounds like a comprehensive effort to make the Pennsylvania Turnpike the safest road in America. The executive summary is available on the PTC website.
In 14 pages, the word “fatalities” appears seldom, generally only in the name of the document on the cover and the top of every other page.
“The updated LRP — ‘The Bridge to Zero Fatalities’ — is a significant step forward for the organization and will serve as a blueprint for capital asset investment decisions over the 10-year Capital Plan planning horizon and beyond,” it says on page 3.
There is a sentence on page 4 about one goal being to “provide the safest possible environment for customers, employees and business partners.” But this document that titles itself about ending death doesn’t devote one sentence to that idea.
Four whole pages, however, talk about money, and a considerable chunk of the others are wrapped up in revenue, which was up, and debt, which was up, too, and future debt, which is expected to rise even more.
Now, this is the executive summary. Executives do tend to look at bottom lines, and those numbers generally mean money. It wouldn’t be fair to say that safety isn’t a consideration.
Likewise, there is no reason to believe the commission could have prevented Sunday’s crash. The idea of “Zero Fatalities” is the kind of thing that looks good on a report cover page but is as distant a goal as world peace and an end to poverty.
It should still be part of the goal.
“The LRP is more of a process than a plan per se. It is dynamic, guiding the development of the 10-year Capital Plan, operating budget and long range planning in general,” the executive summary says.
That makes sense. You can’t plan for everything. But safety is more than a destination. It’s a journey with detours and side roads and unexpected stops, and it seems worth a little more conversation about we get there from here.