SNOW HILL — Though not the full-measure some Worcester County Commissioners desired, the State Highway Administration’s (SHA) decision to install J-turns at two troubled US 113 intersections is expected to reduce accidents.
“It’s probably something that should have been built into 113 originally,” said SHA District 1 Engineer Donnie Drewer.
The intersections of Routes 113 and 365 and Routes 113 and 12 are expected to have the turns installed in 2013 with bidding and construction likely to begin this spring. The changes were sparked by a series of accidents at Routes 113 and 12.
In terms of accidents, 70 crashes involving 145 vehicles were reported at that intersection between 2001 and 2011, according to a presentation by Wallace and Montgomery, a Maryland engineering firm.
“Anytime we can get 10 years’ worth of data it is pretty good,” said Matt Allen, a traffic engineer with Wallace and Montgomery.
Allen corrected that it was slightly less than a decade, since 2011 was still ongoing after the numbers had been collected.
The majority of collisions, continued Allen, were “far-side angle accidents,” which he described as a crash where a vehicle leaves its lane at an angle.
“It involves a vehicle in the median, in other words,” he said.
Of the 70 crashes, 59, or 84 percent, were angle collisions, which Drewer explained should be reduced by installing a J-turn. Other types of crashes, however, will not likely be affected by the traffic calming devices. “This just focuses on far-side angle accidents,” said Allen.
Originally contracted to study the intersection of Routes 113 and 12, Allen told the commission that his company was subsequently asked to look at the intersections of Routes 113 and 365 as well, finding similar results.
Using a smaller sampling from 2008 until part-way through 2011, Allen revealed that Routes 113 and 365 had a total of 17 crashes involving 33 vehicles, 15, or 88 percent of which were angle collisions.
Rob Hudson, a highway engineer with Wallace and Montgomery, explained that both intersections would benefit from J-turns due to the high prevalence of far-side accidents.
“They eliminate the cross traffic and they eliminate the left turns,” he said of J-turns.
Instead of making a left turn at the intersections, as is currently allowed, the J-turns would re-direct that traffic onto the main road and then back through a U-turn. Hudson explained that this “eliminates conflict points” at the intersections and should lead to a measurable decrease in far-side collisions.
Though the commissioners expressed satisfaction that something was finally being done about the troubled intersections, not all of them felt J-turns were enough.
“I was hoping we’d get a stoplight. Actually, I was hoping we’d get an overpass,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley. “That’d solve the whole thing.”
While the J-turns may serve to reduce angle crashes among most motorists, they could also redirect certain traffic, according to Shockley.
“You have tractor trailers coming out of Girdletree … they’re not going to use J-turns,” he told Drewer.
Instead, Shockley predicted that they will instead go through town and use other intersections where they are able to move more flexibly.
“You’re simply going to move the problem to the next intersection,” he said.
Allen agreed that it was possible that truck drivers might choose not to use the J-turns but that was out of the SHA’s hands.
“Even though we do that, they may not use them,” he said.
But Allen promised the J-turns would be wide enough for use by a tractor trailer. As for the possible installation of a traffic light, he told Shockley that a stoplight was considered while reviewing the study. However, neither intersection met pre-established criteria.
To justify the installation of a traffic light, an intersection has to meet one of eight possible conditions, Allen explained. The two intersections in question were both capable of being judged on four of those eight “applicable warrants.” These include eight-hour vehicular volume, four-hour vehicular volume, pedestrian volume and crash experience.
Neither intersection met any of the criteria. While Routes 113 and 12 came close in both the eight-hour and four-hour vehicular volume, it did not keep up with the required pace. With crash experience, Allen noted that the percentage of crashes was high enough to justify the light, but volume of traffic was not. Similar results were found with Routes 113 and 365.
“Again we were close but not close enough,” said Allen.
At this point, Drewer said the J-turns should cut down on the number of crashes significantly and are “the ultimate answer, anyway” in SHA’s opinion. Though still clearly frustrated, Shockley admitted that, “if it doesn’t warrant a light, it doesn’t warrant a light,” and thanked Drewer for SHA at least making an effort.