County works on dangerous crossroads

Published 1:32 am Sunday, March 29, 2009

The intersection of County Road 24 and County Road 59 was identified by the state as Chilton County’s No. 1 area for vehicle crashes.

Four crashes occurred at the site, located in the Enterprise community, in 2008 — two during the day and two at night. While that might not sound like a lot, it was the highest statistic for county roads involving crashes covered by law enforcement.

The data was recorded by a state program called CARE (Critical Analysis Reporting Environment), an independent program that grew out of a University of Alabama research facility. The study did not include state highways or streets inside municipalities.

Every accident covered by law enforcement goes into the CARE main database in Tuscaloosa. These are broken down into counties using a “link-node” system that records the number of crashes at intersections (nodes) and on sections of roadway between intersections (links).

The data is very specific and includes not only the number of crashes but also the number of injuries, number of vehicles involved, type of vehicles, whether each crash occurred at day or night, and property damage.

“It will basically give me the accident reports for all these accidents,” Chilton County Engineer Tony Wearren said.

The state runs a detailed report every year that includes all the county data. County road departments use the information in local evaluations to help determine how money is spent to improve road safety.

Intersections where at least four accidents have occurred in a year’s time, such as 24/59, qualify for HRRR (High Risk Rural Roads) Funds, a program funded by the state.

The Chilton County Road Department has already used funding to place reflective rumble strips and extra large, gatepost (on both sides of the road) stop signs on County Road 59 at both the north and south approaches to 24. This was done in conjunction with the state’s resurfacing project on 24.

“In most traffic studies, intersections are where you have the most accidents,” Wearren said, adding that roundabouts are replacing the common “T” intersections in some areas of the U.S.

The roundabout, which is common in European countries, eliminates the need to stop or make a left-hand turn at an intersection. Instead of stopping, traffic only has to yield.

“You’re actually doing two things. You’re saving fuel and you’re keeping traffic moving,” Wearren said.

Eliminating left-hand turns is one of the most revolutionary safety innovations of a roundabout.

“At a T intersection, the majority of people killed in accidents were turning left,” Wearren explained.

For now, other safety measures will have to suffice. The reflective rumble strips will be visible at night, and can be felt by motorists as they approach the intersection.

“We’ve made it more visible that there’s a stop condition,” Wearren said.