Those Lovable, Costly Green Glare Screens Along I-80

I frequently drive the 30-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Brookville and DuBois.

The interstate highway, with its relatively gentle curves and reduced grades, is less taxing, and incrementally faster, than the nearly parallel stretch of Route 322 that had been the east-west conduit before the 1960s advent of the “Keystone Shortway.”

Good.

A four-mile segment of that roadway is now being repaired.

Bad.

Well, not really bad. In the long run, it is good that PennDOT is replacing the aging pavement. But along with most drivers, I dislike construction sites.

The segment’s traffic is being maintained via crossovers.

Good.

No, wait.

Not just good: Great!

I have come to greatly detest PennDOT’s recent-years practice of closing one lane in each direction on I-80, and the new wrinkle of constricting the width to 11.5 feet or so. In my opinion, that creates hazards for construction workers, while slowing traffic to a crawl.

Supposedly, the federal government put the kibosh to using crossovers a decade and more ago, with an unrealistic requirement for 45 mph traffic flow. Since it can add $1 million to a construction project’s cost to construct a crossover able to sustain the heavy truck traffic common on I-80, PennDOT largely abandoned that process.

It is back, however, on the aforementioned stretch of I-80.

Again, good.

This time, the “Jersey barricade” concrete lane dividers come equipped with something fairly new to this area: glare screens.

These are green rectangles, stood on end atop the barricades, angled so that almost none of the headlight glare from oncoming traffic jumps the barriers and blinds oncoming drivers.

The rectangles, I’m guessing about 1×2 feet in dimensions, are really effective.

That was brought home to me recently by trips that involved driving on similar one-lane-each-way stretches of Route 322 near Lewistown, between here and Harrisburg, and on the seemingly always-under-construction Northeast Extension (I-476) of the Pennsylvania Turnpike between the Poconos and Philadelphia.

The return trip on Route 322 was in the rain, at night. Those two conditions combine to produce “halos” for my cataract-growing eyes, causing me to squint and flinch at oncoming vehicles’ lights.

Worse, that stretch curves back and forth. The oncoming headlights flash onto my wet windshield, and I drive in constant fear of scraping the barricades on the narrowed lanes.

That, in turn, causes me to slow down.

That, in its turn, produces even more headlight glare, as the driver of the tractor-trailer behind me grows impatient, flicking his high-beam headlights into my rear-view mirrors.

That, of course, causes me to slow down even more, bringing an ominous “Blatt-blatt!” from the driver’s air horn.

No, I do not get angry. When I was younger, I did succumb to “road rage” on occasion, at least to the extent of waving parts of my hand excitedly.

That solves nothing, I have learned, and can provoke violent reactions.

So I hunch my shoulders and get through the wet, glaring stretch of road as best I can, leaving the road rage, if any, to the truckers. Though annoying, my slow speed (40 mph or so) is preferable to the alternative; if I hit the barrier, the lane will be closed and the impatient trucker will be held up for much longer.

Back home, I drove from DuBois to Brookville along the I-80 stretch equipped with the green glare screens in rain and darkness, and marveled at how much less tense the trip was. Of course, the I-80 stretch isn’t curvy like the stretch of Route 322, or up-and-down hilly like I-476 flowing down from the Pocono highlands.

So these green glare screens ought to be standard equipment, right?

We-e-ell….

There is a cost: $10 a linear foot, more or less, depending on the job, according to the always-helpful Deborah Casadei, PennDOT’s public information officer out of Indiana, Pa.

That is an additional $150,000-$200,000 for the aforementioned stretch of I-80.

Now, $200,000 is a lot of money – until one calculates the cost of a crash. Injuries aside, the cost of hauling an overturned tractor-trailer up from the bottom of one of the I-80 ravines can approach $200,000, especially if its cargo is ruined. Over a six-month period, do the glare screens prevent a half-dozen such accidents? A dozen? One? None?

I can’t answer that with anything except the experience of having driven that stretch of I-80 daily for a dozen years, and having driven vehicles for 54 years.

In my view, they are worth the money for stretches of highway that will be lane-restricted via crossovers for months at a stretch.

Then again, that $200,000 is $200,000 less that could be spent on actual concrete or asphalt, just as the cost of a crossover decreases the money available for repaving, etc.

It is, in the end, a balancing act.

In this instance, I vote for greater safety.

Hooray for those upright green glare screens.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.