A wrong-way crash on I-78 in New Jersey that killed an off-duty police officer happened in one of the few spots on the highway without a guardrail or physical barrier, the I-Team has discovered, raising questions about why the area was unprotected.
“Probably 95 percent of 78 has some sort of [barrier] that physically prevents a driver from crossing over,” said Joseph Staiger, an engineer with Dynamic Traffic, LLC and an expert in New Jersey highway design and rules.
Summit police officer Matthew Tarentino, a father of two with a child on the way, was heading to work Tuesday morning when a car crossed over the grassy median in Bernards Township and hit him head on. Tarentino and one person in the other car died.
“[A guardrail] certainly would have prevented this accident,” Staiger said.
But the New Jersey Department of Transportation pointed out to News 4 New York that the median doesn’t meet a key specification.
“The NJDOT Roadway Design Manual requires median guide rail on high speed, access controlled highways, such as Interstate highways, where the median width is 60-feet or less from the inside shoulder/edge line on one side, across the median to the inside shoulder/edge line on the other.” a spokesman said in a statement.
“The location of the crash on I-78 has a median width of approximately 80 feet, therefore median guiderail is not required,” the spokesman said.
Despite the NJDOT requirements, however, the I-Team found guardrails on sections of the I-78 median that are wider than 60 feet.
Even though the guardrail was not technically required, Staiger said installing it would have made sense, “being that there are relatively short sections where there is no physical barrier.”
Bernards Township Police Chief Brian Bobowicz, who responded to the crash, told the I-Team it should be a wake-up call for a guardrail to be installed.
“I can only hope to ask DOT to be reflective of the tragic loss of two lives in one accident,” he said.
“I think this one accident is terrible enough to ask the DOT to take a hard second look and turn something negative into something positive use this is a catalyst for positive change and install some safety measure.”