Most-dangerous roads prompt safety actions
A DUI task force in Trumbull County will look at problem areas and will consider possible solutions.
By SEAN BARRON
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- State and local officials are devising ways to boost traffic safety on several roads and intersections that are the scene of high numbers of accidents in the region.
These approaches include targeted traffic enforcement, road widening, reducing speed limits and synchronized traffic signals to ease congestion.
The work can be a matter of life and death: Austintown, for example, had six vehicular deaths in 1999; four were handled by the township and two were under the jurisdiction of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Lt. Mark Durkin of the Austintown Police Department said of the four fatal accidents handled by township police, two were on Four Mile Run Road between Mahoning Avenue and County Line Road. Most of those involved speed and alcohol, and the contours of the road, he said.
For people who have had too much to drink, the road also provided a quick escape, allowing the drunken driver to avoid patrol cars along Mahoning Avenue, Durkin explained.
A $20,000 Selective Traffic Enforcement Program grant addressed these fatalities. STEP money made it possible for specific officers to work overtime when needed and to focus on traffic enforcement, such as going after drunken drivers or speeders, in high-volume areas.
Highest number: Mahoning Avenue between state Route 46 and Raccoon Road, however, had the highest number of crashes in Austintown largely because of saturated development, heavy traffic and motorists' carelessly pulling out. New development is likely to worsen the situation, Durkin said.
Route 46 at Mahoning Avenue is being widened and traffic signals are synchronized to ease congestion, he said.
Also targeted: In Youngstown, Market Street at Wayne Avenue was the site of two deaths, three near-fatal wrecks and seven injuries in 1999 and 2000, said Sgt. Rick Hart, an accident investigator for the Youngstown Police Department.
Excessive speed, alcohol and the sharp curve were causes. Hart also said STEP has targeted that section.
During the past four years, Market Street has seen more accidents than any Youngstown street. The majority were near Indianola Avenue in the Uptown district, Hart added. High traffic volume and numerous turning lanes make this area vulnerable.
On I-680: Another problem area has been Interstate 680 near the Williamson Avenue exit. Even though few accidents there have been serious, last December's ice, combined with a sharp bend, caused a lot of drivers to lose control.
In response, the Ohio Department of Transportation erected a sign in mid-December warning motorists of possible icy conditions on the bridge.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol reported 2,276 crashes along U.S. Route 224 in Mahoning County in 1996 through 1998, making it Ohio's most dangerous road in an unincorporated area. Heavy development and many vehicles' suddenly starting and stopping were largely responsible for the accidents.
To address the heavy traffic and gridlock, ODOT installed a Closed Loop Coordinated Signal System in August 1998. Ken Greene, ODOT's traffic maintenance engineer, said the system allows a steady traffic flow. Vehicle detectors under the pavement monitor traffic and a computer at ODOT's Ravenna office controls each light.
"The closed system tries to turn signals green in a systematic fashion. If you drive around the speed limit, you should hit each green signal," Greene explained.
In Salem: Salem's most hazardous stretch is East State Street between Brooklyn Avenue and Butcher Road. Salem Police Chief Mike Weitz said heavy traffic and busy entrances and exits accounted for most wrecks.
But he also said a strictly enforced 25 mph speed limit has kept the number of injuries and severe accidents down.
A steep hill blocks motorists' vision along East State Street. A $1.2 million project to lower Millville Hill should reduce accidents, city officials say. The project will also include new traffic signals and turning lanes.
Work will take about six months, according to officials.
Lisbon Police Chief John Higgins said most accidents there occur on Beaver Street, Market Street (state Route 45) and Lincoln Way. Most were caused by inattentive or impatient drivers. The 25 mph speed limit, however, has reduced the number of serious injuries, Higgins added.
An additional traffic signal at Market Street and Lincoln Way, as well as synchronized timing, has kept traffic moving. Also, stop bars ("stop here on red" white lines) were moved back to allow tractor-trailers greater turning room.
Howland Police Chief Steve Lamantia cited North Road as a trouble spot. Heavy traffic near the Eastwood Mall caused many U.S. Route 422 accidents.
Hotbed in Niles: John Marshall, traffic officer for Niles police, said the intersection of Route 422 and state Route 46 also is a hotbed for accidents.
Alcohol contributed to about half of Trumbull County's vehicular deaths in 1999, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety. The county has the second-highest number of alcohol-related crashes in Ohio, according to ODPS figures.
Lamantia said that per capita, Trumbull County has more taverns and other businesses that sell alcohol than any other Ohio county.
As a result, a DUI task force has been established to look at problem areas and possible solutions. The task force is also working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Mahoning County.
Many Warren accidents occur at East Market Street and Elm Road because of too few turning lanes on East Market, said Sgt. Larry Salvato, Warren Police traffic commissioner. Many have been multiple vehicle accidents, he added.
In Champion, state Route 45 saw the highest number of crashes -- many from driver inattention, according to Police Chief James Sicuro.
In Pa.: Mercer County saw 13 deaths in six years. All were on a 7.5-mile stretch of U.S. Route 62 between Hermitage and Mercer. Alcohol, aggressive driving and not wearing seat belts caused most of those deaths, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. To address the problem, PennDOT launched a safety program last November for that area.
The state also has focused on drivers, emphasizing education and awareness through warning signs and traffic enforcement. But Hermitage Police Chief Edward Stanton said that more needs to be done and that local police should be allowed to use radar to catch speeders.
Route 62, though, is a challenge because of its hilly terrain and many blind spots. Widening certain intersections, such as Greenfield Road, and adding turning lanes can make it safer, said Police Chief Jeff Lockard of the Jefferson-Clark Regional Police Department. Cutting back parts of the embankment would improve visibility, he added.
PennDOT has also targeted state Route 65 near New Castle for new signs and stricter police enforcement. That road has had a high number of alcohol-related accidents, said Cathy Tress, PennDOT's District 11 spokeswoman.
Signs warn motorists to buckle up and watch for drunken drivers.
Also, several New Castle roads have sharp, dangerous turns. Many were established in the 1800s and weren't built for cars, said Lt. Rick Russo of the police department.