Pa. Turnpike abuzz as bees swarm toll plaza

The bees descended on a canopy linking three toll booths, slowing traffic and driving toll collectors from their booths before the Philadelphia Bee Co. took the bees away.
The bees descended on a canopy linking three toll booths, slowing traffic and driving toll collectors from their booths before the Philadelphia Bee Co. took the bees away. (MICHAELLE BOND / Staff)
Posted: June 20, 2014

Commuters are not wont to chat with toll collectors, especially during peak hours, but a woman arriving at the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Valley Forge toll plaza Wednesday morning was compelled to issue an urgent warning: The bees are coming!

Within minutes, up to 40,000 bees descended on the canopy connecting the toll booths in Lanes 9, 10 and 11, slowing traffic and driving collectors from their booths.

Panicked workers used their radios to alert the nearby interchange office, where they could hear the buzz of the bees over the radio's static.

"We got the call: 'I need help out here. We got a lot of bees,' " said Jason Coyne, the interchange manager.

Coyne said he thought he would grab a few cans of bug spray and deal with the problem himself. "As soon as I came out and saw the cloud, I said, 'Nah, that's not me,' " he said. "It was insane."

Toll collectors were moved to lanes away from the bees. No one reported being stung.

"It's a problem I don't think we've encountered, ever," said Renee Colburn, a turnpike spokeswoman.

After getting the first calls about the bees around 8:30 a.m., the Turnpike Commission called experts for help. They said the bees eventually would fly off on their own.

The bees flew around the plaza for more than an hour before settling onto the red and green lights of Lane 9.

By 4:30 p.m., the Philadelphia Bee Co. had arrived to scoop them into a box and drive them to their new home in another unlikely place: the roof of the Philadelphia Business and Technology Center in West Philadelphia, where the company keeps its hives.

Swarming is a natural part of the honey bee life cycle and is actually when bees are at their calmest, said Jim Bobb, a beekeeper who removes swarms throughout the region. Bees leave their homes once a year to find a new one, usually from mid-April to mid-June in the Philadelphia region.

Some find temporary places to hang, while others fly ahead to scout out permanent homes. Once the bees settle on a new location, they fly off and move in. They normally choose tree hollows or branches.

"They're usually not as obvious as being on a toll booth on the Valley Forge interchange," Bobb said.

Wednesday afternoon, the bees were hanging onto the lights and each other, swinging as a unit with the winds.

Luckily for drivers traveling east, the bees settled onto the lights facing the opposite direction. Drivers continued to fly through the toll lanes.

Last month, a tractor-trailer carrying bees overturned on a ramp from Route 896 north to I-95 north in Delaware, releasing millions of bees and closing the ramp for hours.


mbond@philly.com 610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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