County flags 5 dangerous intersections along Highway 29

Intersection at County Road U deemed a top priority by county, state
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Leader photo by Carol Ryczek Vehicles turn into traffic that has already rounded a turn on State Highway 29 at County Road MMM west of Shawano. The intersection has been the site of 126 vehicle crashes between 2013 and 2018.

Leader photo by Carol Ryczek A request for an overpass or another means to reduce crashes at the intersection of State Highway 29 and County Road U has been requested by several local government units. The intersection was the location for 118 vehicle crashes, four of them fatal, between 2013 and 2018.

Five intersections along state Highway 29 in Shawano County have been identified as the county’s most dangerous, with a total of 466 crashes over the last five years and seven fatalities.

Of highest concern to county authorities is the intersection of Highway 29 and County Road U, where there have been four fatal crashes since January 2013, according to sheriff’s department records.

Some steps have already been taken to address that particular intersection, including rumble pads, stop signs with metal orange flags, LED flashing stop signs on County Road U, and double-marked intersection warning signs with 55 mph advisory speeds on the westbound highway approach to the intersection.

The county has been urging the state Department of Transportation to make additional safety improvements.

The county’s highway safety commission reviewed four alternatives, including a J-turn, median U-turn, lowering the hill to the east of the intersection to increase sight distance, or an interchange.

A resolution calling for the DOT to construct an interchange at that location was placed on the County Board’s agenda last month, but was pulled from the board’s agenda.

According to county Highway Commissioner Grant Bystol, that’s because the county is already in talks with the DOT about alternatives to addressing the 29/U problem.

“The DOT would like to continue developing their alternatives and then come out and meet with us,” he said. “They want to give us a little more information before we make a decision.”

The DOT will meet with the county’s highway safety and public safety committees at a joint meeting on April 23.

The intersection at County Road U remains the top priority, but there are four others along Highway 29 identified by the highway safety committee that are also of concern.

They include the intersections at County Road MMM in the town of Richmond, where there have been 126 crashes over the past five years, one of them fatal; County Road J in the town of Morris, where there have been 93 crashes, one fatal; County Road D (Rock Road) in the town of Seneca, 65 crashes; and County Road F in the town of Hartland, 64 crashes.

Bystol said the intersections have a combination of problems, including vertical profile issues, such as the hill east of the County Road U intersection, or roadways that meet the highway on a skew or at a curve.

“Crash trends show a pattern that we want to address,” he said.

Tegan Griffith, communications manager for the DOT’s north central region, said Highway 29 was constructed to meet what the needs and traffic volumes called for more than 20 years ago.

“The need for a four-lane facility spanning east to west across central Wisconsin was identified as a need in the early 1990’s and was originally constructed to federal and state four-lane expressway standards in the mid to late 1990s,” she said. “Since that time, traffic patterns and volumes have changed.”

In the fall of 2017, the DOT met with Shawano County officials to review the Highway 29 and County Road U intersection and identify immediate low-cost safety enhancements, Griffith said.

The following items have been completed to date:

• Rumble pads were reground on the County Road U approaches.

• Left side “stop-ahead” signs with metal orange flags were added to the County Road U approaches.

• Double-marked intersection warning signs were installed with 55 mph advisory speeds on the westbound approach for the intersection.

• LED blinker stop signs were installed on County Road U.

Griffith said funding had been approved through the Highway Safety Improvement Program for further improvements to the intersection, scheduled for construction in 2021.

The alternatives approved under those funds include a J-turn, U-median turn, or grading “to improve intersection geometry and sight,” Griffith said.

Public information meetings will be held later this year to present design alternatives and project costs, she said.

The DOT has its own crash statistics for the Highway 29 corridor and also sees the intersection at County Road U as a priority.

As for the other intersections, Griffith said, “Additional locations will continue to be monitored and evaluated and measures to address safety issues will be applied as feasible.”

Chief Deputy George Lenzner of the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department said the county would love to see an interchange at all of the intersections, but the reality is that it’s not economically feasible.

However, he said, “we will continue to push DOT to move forward with improvements or hopefully an interchange at 29 and U.”

Lenzner said that when time permits deputies have provided extra patrol at the intersections flagged by the highway safety committee, making sure people are driving the speed limit and that they are coming to a complete stop at the stop signs.

Lenzner also said that, in spite of the design problems at these intersections, motorists themselves have to take some responsibility for the accidents taking place there.

“The majority of the fatal crashes that have occurred at these intersections involve inattentive driving,” he said. “Vehicle operators need to be more aware of their surroundings.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Most dangerous intersections along state Highway 29 in Shawano County as identified by the county highway safety committee. All numbers include the time frame between Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2018.

County Road U

• Total crashes 118

• Fatal 4

• Personal Injury (PI) 7

• (Reportable) Property Damage (PD) 15

County Road MMM

• Total crashes 126

• Fatal 1

• PI 7

• PD 17

County Road J

• Total crashes 93

• Fatal 1

• PI 5

• PD 19

County Road F

• Total crashes 64

• Fatal 0

• PI 2

• PD 18

County Road D (Rock Road)

• Total crashes 65

• Fatal 1

• PI 3

• PD 9

Source: Shawano County Sheriff’s Department