I-Team: Dangerous roads

July 6, 2010 3:41:18 PM PDT
Fatal crashes are most often caused by driver error, speed, alcohol, and other distractions. But sometimes, there's a problem with a road or intersection.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation keeps track of potential problems by collecting crash data. It's information that's available to the public at http://www.ncdot.org/doh/preconstruct/traffic/safety/programs/PHReports.html

The worst place for accidents in Durham is Interstate 40 and Fayetteville Road. There have been 138 accidents in two years.

In Fayetteville, the biggest problem is Skibo Road at the All American Freeway, with 144 accidents.

In Raleigh, the intersection of I-440 and Wake Forest Road saw 299 crashes.

Driver Leroy Gause says he avoids that Raleigh intersection if he can.

"I try not to come here too often because of the congestion," he explained.

But experts say a high number of crashes doesn't always mean an intersection is dangerous. It may mean there's a high volume of traffic, which makes accidents more likely.

Stephen Lowry, a safety engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation, says his department weights the potential problem of a road or intersection by the severity of crashes.

"If there's a dangerous crash it goes into our database and if there's a pattern it will be identified," he explained.

The DOT puts all the information into a database which ranks potentially hazardous intersections county-by-county across the state.

"We rank these locations and we'll pick the highest ranked locations to analyze first," said Lowry.

In Cumberland County, the highest ranked intersection is number seven statewide. It's Owen Drive and the All American Freeway. That'll likely get checked out this year.

So will Wake County's top problem intersection. Poole Road and New Hope Road in southeast Raleigh is ranked 11 statewide and there have been a lot of accidents involving drivers making left turns.

But in Durham County, the highest ranked intersection is listed at 126 on the state's list. That's Morehead Avenue at Mangum Street near the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

"I was just telling my wife that it's pretty rough coming over here. I wish that we wouldn't have come to this section actually," said Durham driver Henry Simmons.

Simmons told ABC11 there's a blind spot at the intersection.

Thanks to budget cuts, it's unclear when the DOT will be out for a closer look. Twenty one temporary DOT employees have been let go over the past year and 16 of them were engineers who helped with the investigations.

"We're just now gaining back some of those, but it has impacted our ability to investigate more locations," said Lowry.

Lowry will not say that state budget cuts are putting lives at risk, but cities have had to step up. Durham recently installed a roundabout on Old Chapel Hill Road and it put in a flashing light to warn drivers about a dangerous curve.

Drivers like Henry Simmons say more should be done.

"With the tax money we're paying, I'm sure we could be getting better roads right now - to me it seems like anyway," he offered.

While it may not happen right now, officials say they'll hopefully get the work done sometime down the road. And while the DOT lost more than a dozen temporary workers to investigate and analyze the dangerous intersections, it says people from other departments are stepping in to help.

So, the good news is the DOT is identifying and trying to improve dangerous intersections. The not so good news is it's unclear when they'll be able to make any changes.

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