Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Roundabout Rage

Dean Humphrey - The Daily Sentinel

I was working when this tragedy on I-70 occurred on Monday afternoon.

I really can't offer any special insight on the a
ccident, but there seems to be a great deal of community concern about the factors that may have contributed to this. Many of these concerns were directed toward the roundabout at the 24 Road interchange, the design of which many seem to be attributing some of the blame for this accident. Ralph D'Andrea and Rick Wagner both weighed in with concerns about the appropriateness of roundabouts in multi-lane configurations, providing access to limited access divided highways like I-70.

There have been follow-up stories in yesterday's and today's Sentinel editions, including a strong defense of the design and si
gnage characteristics by representatives of both the City of Grand Junction and CDOT.

I went out and took a look for myself. I know a little bit about t
hese things, but I'm not an engineer or an accident investigator.

This is the impact point of the accident. The dark stains on the roadway are from the motor oil and other fluids that leaked from the involved vehicles.

You can see tire tracks leading away from the point of impact. These tracks are from the fluids on the roadway. One thing that appears to be conspicuously absent to me, from this photo and the one above, is the absence of skid marks from either direction. It appears as if there was no attempt at braking by either car.

This is the eastbound off-ramp at Exit 24, seen from the roundabout.

Nancy Shanks from CDOT was quoted today:
“It’s not an easy-flowing right-hand turn...You may even have to travel over a piece of that median.”
not so sure about that assessment. That median doesn't look to be much in the way. Should one make this right turn in error, there do appear to be several warning signs, however.

Here is a view down the off-ramp a little bit.
There are DO NOT ENTER signs at the top of
the ramp, followed by these two WRONG WAY
signs on either side of the roadway.

Something tells me that there's more at work here than just confusion over a roundabout.
I'll bet there will be some changes in response to this, and it won't be the first time.

The signs identifying the road that each overpass is carrying over I-70 are a new addition since the fatal crash last summer involving a semi that severely damaged this overpass at 26 1/2 Road.

This crash happened at about 2:30 in the morning, and there were numerous conflicting reports from motorists on I-70 who couldn't identify where they were.

This is a welcome addition to the I-70 corridor. Too bad that a fatal accident had to happen to bring it about.

That being said, the Sentinel's editorial yesterday is absolutely correct in its' assessment of the issues, and support of roundabouts as safe and efficient movers of increasing volumes of traffic.

As I've said previously, roundabouts can be subject to design flaws just as any other man-made conveyance, and we've got lots of examples locally. I think it's safe to say that the design and signage of this roundabout, and the eastbound off-ramp, was not the primary cause of this tragedy. The driver of the silver minivan that accessed the Interstate in the wrong direction continued at highway speeds for nearly a mile before the crash.

Can a better job be done? Certainly. In most cases it always can. The ruminations of trial lawyers notwithstanding, human beings are not perfect. I expect that CDOT will re-evaluate the 24 Road roundabout, implement some positive changes, and incorporate those changes into the same type of roundabout now under construction at the Fruita exit.

In the meantime, roundabouts work. They move traffic more efficiently and safely than the 4-way intersections they replaced. Like the traffic jams, crowded retail centers, and surfeit of construction vehicles and energy company service trucks, roundabouts are a necessary component of the traffic engineering model for a growing metropolitan area like ours.
They're here to stay. Get used to it.

And most importantly, our heartfelt condolences to those touched by this tragic occurrence. May the Lord's peace be upon you in this difficult time.

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