In late May, a senior from North Vermillion High School in Cayuga, Ind., died in a vehicle crash at the intersection of Indiana 63 and Indiana 234. It is believed that the young driver’s vision was obstructed by a large commercial vehicle as he tried to turn from the east-west road onto the busy north-south four-lane highway.
The sad incident shocked the community and raised new concerns about dangers at an intersection that has been the focus of attention time and again. No matter what traffic engineers have tried, the busy intersection always manages to produce more tragedy.
Vermillion County, Indiana, officials say there have been as many as 10 fatal crashes and numerous other injury crashes at the intersection in the past 20-plus years.
What has been tried before is obviously not working. At least not well enough. The time has come for more aggressive action. The Vermillion County commissioners are pushing for drastic changes at the intersection, up to and including installation of a stoplight.
The Indiana Department of Transportation is well aware of the problems at the intersection and has been mulling a proposal to make changes. Included in its current plans are installation of flashing “intersection ahead” warning signs and LED stop signs on Indiana 234 at the intersection. In addition, more overhead lights at the intersection would be installed to improve night visibility.
INDOT has also proposed to add a Reduced Conflict Intersection system at the location as part of a paving project on Indiana 234. Traffic officials say these types of intersections reduce crossover conflicts.
A number of these types of intersections have been installed in similar trouble spots around Indiana. There is one now in place on U.S. 41 in the community of Oaktown in Knox County, where a busy side road crosses the four-lane highway.
As officials explain, at a Reduced Conflict Intersection, drivers always make a right turn, followed by a U-turn. Motorists approaching divided highways from a side street are not allowed to make left turns or cross traffic; instead, they are required to turn right onto the highway and then make a U-turn at a designated median opening ahead. Traffic engineers say this reduces potential conflict points and increases safety.
Although INDOT has been introducing this type of traffic safety solution at busy rural intersections, they do not come without controversy. Local officials and residents tend to rebel against the concept and demand the more familiar traffic light instead. But once residents observe such a solution in practice, their resistance begins to wane as they see positive results.
A good approach for INDOT officials would be to conduct a public meeting in Cayuga to explain the concept, as well as listen and respond to local concerns and questions. Not everyone will be convinced or approve of the plan, but at least they will have had their opportunity to better understand it and voice their opinions.
What is essential is for Indiana officials to move quickly to address this dangerous intersection before more tragedy occurs.