More than 90 people have died and more than 1,000 were seriously injured in Butler County traffic accidents in the past four years.
ODOT periodically assesses the accidents rates of dangerous roadways and intersections, and these studies drive the funding of major road improvements. A Journal-News analysis found that the most dangerous intersections, as ODOT measures them, are not necessarily the ones where the fatalities occur.
The most dangerous urban intersection in the county is Roosevelt and Breiel Boulevard in Middletown, with a total of 28 crashes, including 13 injury crashes between 2011 and 2013, according to ODOT statistics.
The most dangerous rural intersection is at Trenton-Oxford and Jacksonburg Roads in Wayne Twp, which saw six crashes over the same time period. Almost all the rural intersections with a high accident rate involved some stretch of Trenton-Oxford Road.
ODOT pumps $102 million a year into engineering improvements at intersections with high crash rates and severe crash rates, according to its website. ODOT funds a variety of safety projects, such as intersection and curve realignment, rumble stripes and cable barriers. Funding requests typically range from $200,000 to $5 million, though the department will consider requests up to $10 million.
Sharon Smigielski, a spokeswoman for the local ODOT district, said, “Funding is prioritized based on ranking. We look at 500 intersections (statewide) so it may be awhile before some of them get funding,” she said.
One of the projects that has received ODOT funding so far is the one planned for the Gilmore/Holden/Ohio 4 intersection in Fairfield, near Jungle Jim’s and Fairfield High School. In 2011, before the most recent ranking was completed, the city received a $2.5 million grant from ODOT for the project, which is set for construction next year, said Dave Butsch, the director of public works.
“That’s one of our worst intersections in terms of accidents,” he said. Between 2011 and 2013, that intersection saw 27 crashes, including nine with serious injuries, according to ODOT. The plan is to widen the intersection to accommodate additional turn lanes onto Ohio 4, and an additional through lane from Holden to South Gilmore. The traffic signals will also be upgraded.
ODOT also rolled out a program to help townships this year, offering them grants of up to $50,000 for new road signage. Fairfield and Oxford townships, which placed in the top 100 of the state, are both applying for the grant. The state provides more than $1 million to this program annually.
But at the same time, ODOT says that signs are not always the best fix. In a document called “Myth vs. Reality,” the U.S. Department of Transportation aimed to dispel popular notions that signals and signs are always the best solutions.
USDOT says the installation of unwarranted signals “can create situations where overall congestion is increased, which in turn can create aggressive driving behavior. ” For example, too many stop signs might encourage motorists to drive faster between intersections to offset delays.
“Unwarranted stop signs breed contempt in motorists who tend to ignore them or only slow down without stopping. This can sometimes lead to tragic consequences,” USDOT said.
Drivers often believe that four-way stop signs will always result in fewer accidents, but “pedestrians in sign-congested neighborhoods often have a false sense of security about crossing local streets.” In addition, placing four-way stop signs at former two-way stops usually increases congestion, according to the agency.
USDOT also states that signals are not necessarily better than stop signs.
“While waiting for signals to qualify for installation, the substantial amount of money can be saved to make roads safer,” according to USDOT.
Regardless, being in or even witnessing a fatal accident takes a personal toll that prompts people to want to see something done. A fatal accident in January at the intersection of Symmes and North Gilmore Roads in Fairfield brought back unpleasant memories for Raeann Gage, who lost her grandmother Minnie Lawson in a crash at the same location in 2014.
She said her grandmother was “not even five minutes from home. She had been going to visit friends. People just fly through that intersection. It just breaks my heart.”
That was the second fatal accident in Fairfield this year. The first occured the week before when two pedestrians died after being struck by a vehicle near the intersection of Ohio 4 and Nilles Road. That’s near the Gilmore/Holden intersection.
“I’d seen the two people laying in the road face down… it was kind of shocking, mind-blowing. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” said Jordan Kaiser, a witness to that accident.
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