Officials consider solutions for dangerous intersections

If your daily commute takes you along some of the county’s busiest thoroughfares — U.S. 31, County Line Road and State Road 135 — you’re likely driving through some of the county’s most dangerous intersections.

Last year, a new intersection topped the list: Whiteland Road and U.S. 31.

The intersection had 17 collisions last year, the most of any intersection in Johnson County, according to an Indiana University study.

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But some of the same intersections that have made the list for years — U.S. 31 and Westview Road, County Line Road and Madison Avenue — also topped the list.

Researchers at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute have annually compiled data on vehicle collisions in Indiana. In a study released last month, they detailed what intersections in each county had the most crashes in 2015, the most recent year data was available.

The common denominator for many of these intersections is high amounts of traffic. They include points along many of the busiest stretches of roadway in Johnson County.

Last year was the third time that Whiteland Road and U.S. 31 made the study’s list of intersections with the most collisions in Johnson County, but it was the first time the intersection has been at the top of the list. The intersection ranked third in the county in 2014 with 12 collisions. It ranked second in the county in 2011 with 14 collisions.

Luckily, the majority of crashes at the intersection were not serious accidents, such as rear-end collisions and fender-benders, Whiteland Police Chief Rick Shipp said.

He attributed the collisions to traffic backups and people not paying attention to the stoplight. The issue is dangerous drivers, not a dangerous intersection, Shipp said.

Drivers need to be more aware of the distance between themselves and the vehicle in front of them and pay more attention to the stoplight, he said.

Elsewhere in Johnson County, officials are considering fixes to intersections that have been longstanding problems.

The intersection of Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road in Greenwood had the fourth most collisions in 2015 with 14.

A major concern is what Greenwood Planning Director Bill Peeples describes as the triangle — a close series of stoplights along Smith Valley Road where it intersects with U.S. 31, Madison Avenue and Meridian Street.

“It has been a perennial problem,” Peeples said.

A complex, $3.4 million project is planned for 2018 to address an area city officials describe as severely congested. Those improvements include a roundabout to be added at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Smith Valley Road.

Lefthand turns from Smith Valley Road onto U.S. 31 will no longer be allowed. Instead, drivers on Smith Valley Road will have two options to get to U.S. 31. They will either use Madison Avenue or what is termed a jug handle loop in between U.S. 31 and Madison Avenue.

When designing new intersections or fixing current ones, one of the ways to make them safer is to eliminate left turns wherever possible, he said.

“Generally speaking, accidents happen when people are turning left,” Peeples said.

One way Greenwood is eliminating left turns at intersections is with roundabouts. The city plans to add as many as five more in coming years, Peeples said.

Part of the problem local officials face when seeking to fix intersection problems is that they lack control over state-owned roads such as U.S. 31 and State Road 135 or ones such as County Line Road, which is under Indianapolis’ authority. Many, but not all, of the intersections that have had the most crashes in Johnson County in 2015 and in prior years are ones involving those three roads.

In Franklin, the intersection of U.S. 31 and Westview Drive ranked second in 2015 for the number of collisions in Johnson County and has repeatedly been on the list.

The city is aware of the number of crashes, said Franklin Engineer Travis Underhill, but lacks the jurisdiction to address it.

Changes that could help that intersection would include a dedicated right hand turn lane for southbound traffic as well as a redesign to eliminate left turns, he said.

“There are a lot of cars at this location. Slowly and cautiously gets everyone home and to work safely,” Underhill said.

However, communities can’t address all problems, no matter how well they design their intersections, Peeples said.

“The more modern phenomenon is we have a lot of people that run red lights,” he said.

Greenwood Police Department spokesperson Kortney Burrello said she agreed.

While intersections with heavy traffic are the ones that tend to have the most collisions, impatient or distracted drivers are usually at the root of those types of crashes, she said.

Her advice to drivers: stay off cellphones, don’t be distracted while driving and follow traffic signals.

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Indiana University researchers put together a list of the Johnson County intersections with the most vehicle collisions in 2015.

U.S. 31 & Whiteland Road: 17

U.S. 31 & Westview Drive: 15

County Line Road & Madison Avenue: 14

Madison Avenue & Smith Valley Road: 13

Apryl Drive & U.S. 31: 11

State Road 135 & Stones Crossing Road: 11

County Line Road & State Road 135: 10

County Road 144 & State Road 37: 10

County Line & Emerson Avenue: 9