Earlier this month, a chemical leak closed a section of Interstate 81 for several hours in Schuylkill County.

Yesterday, a tractor-trailer accident on Interstate 80 closed that highway for many hours in Monroe County.

The results were massive traffic jams on alternate routes that in some cases brought vehicles to a virtual standstill.

Often in the Lehigh Valley, major traffic backups occur due to accidents on Routes 78 or 22. Not to mention the long backups on the highways themselves by motorists waiting and hoping that the causes of the delays are resolved quickly.

There's no way to totally eliminate such problems, but highway officials should look at ways to improve the situation.

With so much focus these days on "Homeland Security, and measures being taken everywhere from airports to subways to make things safer, the traffic backups not only complicate potential harmful scenarios but often hinder immediate rescuer response.

One suggestion is that perhaps PennDOT could begin training employees on traffic control along alternate routes during such emergencies; enough to keep traffic from hitting a standstill.

It's true that if an accident happens on - for example - Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County, that many PennDOT employees would be needed at the scene of the incident. However, there should be enough PennDOT workers available to help with detours - not just with putting up "detour" signs but actually with human traffic control.

Often volunteer fire police handle such traffic incidents, but such volunteers are becoming scarce. Besides, PennDOT workers would be better insured, equipped, and would be paid for their services.

PennDOT should start working on plans to handle traffic flows during major interstate incidents.

Often detours are poorly marked and motorists become lost. Traffic jams create not only create frustration to motorists, but also sometimes cause additional hazards.

Obviously with the volume of motorists on the road many situations of traffic jams can't be avoided. For long-term highway closures, though, motorists forced to detour should be given some assistance - and especially some guidance.

Side streets aren't made for the high-volume tractor trailer traffic that detours create. At least with some help from either or both fire police and PennDOT workers, those necessary detours could become a little less painful.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com [1]