Deadly Moore County stretch just one of many in rural NC, I-Team finds

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Monday, July 3, 2023
Deadly Moore County stretch just one of many in rural NC
More than 460 crashes have been reported on NC 690 in Moore County in the past decade

VASS, N.C. (WTVD) -- Almost every section of road outside Regina McBride's house has a story of a car crash.

"All of us know how bad this road is," McBride said.

She's lived off of NC 690 in Moore County near Vass for a decade. She said in recent years the drivers have gotten faster and the crashes more severe.

"I'm concerned about people in general because there are a lot of people dying on this road," she said.

"All of us know how bad this road is," Regina McBride told the I-Team.

Earlier this month, a head-on crash on NC 690 just five minutes from McBride's house left four people dead. A car going 105 mph crossed the center line and hit a car carrying three sisters from Southern Pines.

The ABC11 I-Team found this wasn't the only crash that has occurred on this stretch of highway.

More than 460 crashes have been reported on NC 690 in Moore County in the past decade, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Slightly more than a fourth of the crashes (28%) have caused injuries, including 11 deaths. An I-Team analysis found the 15-mile stretch of highway averages around 20 accidents that cause injuries a year.

"I would consider that road, you know, a location that that would be of concern," admitted Shawn Troy, an NCDOT Traffic Safety Engineer.

Addressing safety

It's because of this concern that McBride has been trying to work with NCDOT and local law enforcement on solutions for years. She said she even had an empty police car placed in her yard at one point. McBride said the car helped reduce drivers' speed for a little while until drivers caught on.

NCDOT said it does have solutions planned. Some of the improvements slated for the roadway include constructing a roundabout, an all-way stop, and adding paved shoulders and rumble strips; improvements that are estimated to cost more than $30 million.

"We anticipate that the planned improvements and upgrades will help traffic safety in the area. We plan to do some curve realignment and paved shoulders in the area where the accident occurred," said Jonathan Rand, an NCDOT public information officer.

Rand said these changes may not have necessarily prevented the fatal accident on June 7.

"Unfortunately, the driver in the accident was far exceeding the speed limit and design speed -- both as the road exists now and as it will once it is improved. It is the driver's responsibility to obey the posted speed limit and keep their vehicle on their side of the center line," Rand told ABC11.

Though improvements are coming to NC 690, construction isn't scheduled to begin until 2027. McBride is concerned that the long wait will mean more people get injured in the meantime.

About 64% of the state's severe accidents during the past decade occurred on rural roads

NCDOT said the four-year wait is because the project is one of hundreds scheduled across the state during the next decade. The department said it prioritizes improvement projects by looking at multiple factors including safety, congestion, cost benefits and local priorities

NC 690 one of many perilous rural roads

However, zooming out, it's not just NC 690. Rural roads across the state account for a majority of fatal and serious crashes each year, according to data from NCDOT.

"One of the things that makes our rural roads more hazardous is the roadside hazards that exist," Troy explained. "There's not a whole lot of forgiving once you leave the roadway. You may have a ditch. You may have mailboxes; you may have trees. You may have utility poles. All of those play a role in the severity of that crash."

The ABC11 I-Team analyzed crash data to reveal that 64% of the state's severe accidents during the past decade occurred on rural roads. An average of 883 fatal accidents occur on rural North Carolina roads each year. In 2021 and 2022, the number of fatal accidents has topped 1,000.

Troy said lane departures are a top reason why accidents on rural roads can get so severe. He pointed to cost-effective solutions such as rumble strips as one way that communities have tried to combat this.

Troy said though the state is working on installing measures on some roadways to reduce severe accidents, drivers are also responsible for solutions.

"A lot of it is driver behavior, you know choices that folks make, whether going above the speed limit or drinking or drugs and alcohol or the driving or not wearing seatbelt. But what we try to do is, is keep people on the road, try to eliminate that lane-departure-type crash," he said.

About 21% of severe crashes have involved alcohol, 19% have involved speed 22% involved an unbelted passenger, according to NCDOT data.

"So, if we can, if the DOT can work toward getting engineering countermeasures on the road and the public can work on driver behaviors ... then, then maybe we can win and reduce some fatalities in North Carolina," Troy said.