Most Dangerous Intersections in New England
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
What are New England's most dangerous intersections? GoLocal analyzed data on high-crash intersections from the Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program's "5 Percent Report" to determine which of the region's interchanges pose the greatest threat to New England drivers.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration compiles its so-called "5 Percent Report" each year based on data received from each state describing at least 5 percent of its locations currently exhibiting the most severe highway safety needs. The crash statistics take into account the total number of crashes, number of fatalities, number of crashes that resulted in injury, and number of property damage only crashes for the most recent three year period of each state's reporting.
GoLocal sifted through data on hundreds of intersections to determine the 10 most dangerous intersections in each state and the 60 most dangerous intersections in all of New England. Together, the 60 most dangerous intersections accounted for nearly 5,000 accidents, 13 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries over the most recent three-year period for which data was available.
New England's Most Dangerous Intersection: Exit 20, I-95, Providence, RI
Robert Rocchio, managing engineer of the Traffic Management and Highway Safety Division at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), said that around the time end of the three-year crash data period in 2010, the state was finishing up a $600 million reconstruction project at the Exit 20 interchange, which connects I-95 to I-195, and was completed in 2011.
"Initial studies show that we've made significant safety improvements in that project," Rocchio said, but noted that RIDOT typically waits three years after a projects completion to collect enough data to adequately assess a project's impact.
"Preliminary data is showing that the traffic collisions are going down significantly," he said.
8 of 10 Most Dangerous Intersections Located in RI
The Exit 20 interchange was not the only one in the Ocean State to rank highly on the list of New England's most dangerous intersections. Of the top 10 most dangerous intersections, eight were located in Rhode Island, and six were on the I-95 corridor that cuts through the center of Providence.
Rocchio said that part of what makes that particular stretch of highway so problematic is the high volume of traffic that many roadways designed in the 1950s and '60s were not equipped to handle.
"Traffic volumnes are probably double what they were originally designed for," he said, with roadways designed to carry 50,000 cars per day now handling over 100,000 vehicles per day in some sections.
However, engineering and design fixes are not always feasible due to their sometimes staggering costs. For example, the intersection of US-6 and RI Route 10 in Providence, which was the site of 150 total crashes and 79 that resulted in injury, could potentially be remedied through a $300 million redesign, but the hefty price tag would use up the entirety of RIDOT's budget.
"We have to just be more strategic in our use of scarce funding," said Rocchio, so the state has taken to pursuing high-benefit, lower-cost solutions, such as installing large chevron signs on curves, reflectors in the roadway and on guard rails, rumble strips in highways and increased pavement markings on the roadways themselves, which have all shown to dramatically decrease crashes in initial findings.
RIDOT previously received around $10 million per year dedicated solely to safety improvement projects, and a new transporation bill bumped that number up to $15 million annually.
"Engineering is expensive, and as hard as it sounds, it's actually easier. We can spend this much and make this improvement. We have a good idea of our return on investment," Rocchio said. "The difficult part and the major issues that we're experiencing statewide is really behavioral."
According to Rocchio, the three leading causes of crashes in Rhode Island, and specifically fatal crashes, are speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving.
To combat those negative or risky driving behaviors, RIDOT tries to make roads more forgiving, with brighter signage and rumble strips to get drivers' attention and wide shoulders and cable guard rails that help absorb impact for when they do swerve off the road.
Crashes Don't Tell the Whole Story
"Just because they're on a list doesn't necessarily mean they're problematic," said Joseph Ouellette, state safety engineer for the Connecticut Department of Transportation. "They're just noted because they're above the average rate."
A total of 561 crashes, 125 of which resulted in injury, occurred on Route 15 from mile marker 46.42 to 47.03 in New Haven, Connecticut, earning the stretch of highway the 4th place ranking on GoLocal's list of most dangerous intersections in New England. Ouellette said that the section of Route 15 is currently the subject of an ongoing engineering study to determine what is going on at the location.
In the case of Route 83 in Vernon, which had 25 accidents during the most recent three-year period, Ouellette said CTDOT has already rebuilt the road, but the reported crash data has yet to catch up.
However, all agreed that the data offers a starting point for identifying potential safety risks and finding solutions.
"The integrity of the crash data is extremely important to us," said Sara Lavoie, press secretary at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which produces a Top 200 High Crash Intersections report each year. "With accurate information MassDOT and local communities can make better decisions on roadway design to protect the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. MassDOT is working diligently to improve data collection by offering new tools and instruction to police departments."
Intersections Not the Only Problem
"From a MaineDOT perspective, we look to address locations where engineering/design changes have the potential to reduce crash occurrence," Brunell said. "This is a complex challenge, since most crashes have a strong underlying theme of driver behaviors and/or decision making."
"Each location has its own set of contributing factors that makes it more prone to crashes," said Mario Dupigny-Giroux, a traffic safety engineer at the Vermont Agency of Transportation. "Driver’s behavior plays a lot."
In Vermont, highway officials built a roundabout at the intersection of VT-302 and VT-110 in Barre Town that was completed in 2010. In the three years prior to the project, there were eight total crashes, four resulting in injury, for an average of 2.6 crashes per year. In the two years following the project, there were three total crashes, and zero injuries, for an average of just 1.5 crashes per year.
"Speaking of crash reduction in general, depending on the improvement, the number of crashes at a location can be reduced almost immediately," said Dupigny-Giroux. "Usually, we let motorists adjust to new traffic patterns or geometric features for about six months before starting the evaluation period. Improvements will have different effects. For example, it is known from the literature that installing a signal from a stop condition can reduce crashes by 44 percent and that roundabouts can reduce crashes by as much as 70 percent."
Challenges for New England and How It Compares
"For example, adding another lane or two to any urban/suburban arterial most places in the Boston metro area would be nearly impossible due to how many businesses, homes, and infrastructure is built up right next to the road, while adding lanes to an urban highway in the Midwest would probably be relatively easy," Harmon said. "This is one of the challenges that we face in New England that most other states do not have as much of an issue with."
Taken as whole, New England is below the national average in terms of traffic fatality rate, with 0.91 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to 1.11 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled nationwide. Massachusetts has the lowest fatality rate in the country at just 0.58 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
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