There’s a chilling sight just north of Gettysburg, Pa., right where Route 15 abruptly narrows from four lanes to two. There, just off to the side of the highway, stand 12 steel I beams painted a ghostly white. Impaled on 10 of them are the battered carcasses of nine cars and one truck.
They are the work of sculptor Alan Paulson, who put them there to tell drivers they are about to enter “Death Valley,” as truckers have named it—a deadly bottleneck that runs from here clear down to the Maryland border. Since the road was completed 20 years ago, there have been 181 accidents on this single 17-mile, two-lane stretch, and 10 people have been killed on it.
“This sculpture isn’t just 10 cars on poles,” says Paulson, an art professor at Gettysburg College. “The intent is to embarrass politicians.” Paulson, the Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce and concerned residents want the state to finish the job it left undone and complete all four lanes of Route 15, which stretches from Harrisburg, Pa. to Washington, D.C. When work ended 20 years ago, supposedly because money ran out, this was the only section in Pennsylvania that didn’t have four lanes.
Paulson’s sculpture is part of a campaign spearheaded by the Gettysburg Times. Local volunteers cleared the land and donated the steel beams and junked vehicles, as well as the paint that Paulson needed. After he and his students completed the work, the Chamber of Commerce added a billboard that reads: “Total accidents since 1966—181. Fatalities since 1966—10.”
The efforts seem to be bearing fruit. The land on which the sculpture sits was donated by Bob Spangler, a local restaurateur. “I’ve been to some of the fatal accidents,” he says, “and it’s a gory mess.” Governor-elect Robert P. Casey has pledged that the highway will be completed in his first term. Paulson, however, is skeptical. “I’m always asked when this piece will come down,” he says, “and I say the sculpture is like a hostage, and the payment is the highway.”
In case the roadwork isn’t done in time, two extra I beams are standing there, waiting. “Another fatality on this road and another car goes up,” says Paulson. “I’d hate to see that happen.”