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SHOULDER LANES AN OPTION FOR FATAL STRETCH OF THRUWAY

Federal transportation officials will consider adding shoulder lanes on the elevated section of the Niagara Thruway in downtown Buffalo as part of their review of the fiery crash that killed six people two weeks ago.

Elimination of narrow walkways on the sides of the roadway could provide enough space to create the shoulders, but the transportation officials today cautioned that a complete review of the crash and other measures to help prevent future accidents must be completed first.

"If we can squeeze width from the existing roadway and it can be proven that shoulders would be a benefit, we'll do it," said R. Emmett McDevitt, a transportation safety engineer with the Federal Highway Administration.

The work would be included in the $26 million Thruway Authority reconstruction set to begin this week on that section of the road.

Another way to improve the road's safety would be a public relations campaign to better educate motorists about how to respond following an accident.

"That was a minor accident and these cars didn't need to stop on a major highway to exchange insurance information," said Ronald Weber, the National Transportation Safety Board's senior highway engineer.

A southbound tractor-trailer transporting 10 new cars caused a fiery chain reaction crash March 11 when the rig was unable to avoid a line of vehicles slowed for two stopped vehicles involved in an earlier minor accident.

The drivers of the stopped vehicles apparently were exchanging insurance information, authorities said.

Weber made his comments as he walked up the Church Street southbound entrance ramp of the Thruway to get a close-up look at the roadway. He was accompanied by McDevitt and George White, a Thruway traffic supervisor.

Weber and McDevitt questioned the wisdom of a state Department of Motor Vehicles handbook that, they said, advises motorists to stop and exchange information right after an accident has occurred.

"It's a myth that you have to stop immediately and exchange insurance information," McDevitt said, in urging motorists to only stop once they have found a safe location to pull off the roadway.

"You shouldn't stop on a busy highway," Weber said.

Recommendations to improve safety of the roadway are expected within a month, according to the federal officials.

"We're going to have to balance out whether modifications would cause other types of accidents or congestion, and do a cost-benefits analysis, but we're not going to avoid making modifications because of cost if the safety improvements would be significant," McDevitt said.

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