Thursday, January 24, 2002

Highway's safety examined

Officials look at options for stretch of I-75 after deadly crashes

By David Eck

        LIBERTY TOWNSHIP — A day after a fiery three-car crash on Interstate 75 killed a Michigan man and sent four others to hospitals, Ohio Department of Transportation officials said they will continue to make safety improvements to the deadly stretch in Butler and Warren counties.

        Tuesday's crash just north of the Michael A. Fox Highway in Liberty Township was the 10th fatal accident on a 12-mile stretch of the interstate since November 2000. The crashes have killed 13.

        Two of the accidents occurred since August, when ODOT installed rumble strips to alert drivers they are going off the road. Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers also increased surveillance in the area.

        “We had hoped that the rumble strips would make a significant difference,” ODOT spokeswoman Kim Patton said. “Obviously, the rumble strips haven't been very effective.”

        Most of the crashes have been on dry pavement and involved vehicles that crossed the median into oncoming traffic.

Four possible improvements

        In the wake of the most-recent accidents, Ms. Patton said ODOT officials will study four safety improvements.

        They are:

        • Installing guardrails in the median. Cost: $2-3.5 million.

        • Building concrete barriers in the median. Cost: $12 million.

        • Creating grassy mounds in the median. Cost: under $2 million.

        • Regrading the median. Cost: under $2 million.

        Officials expect to make a decision on which option to pursue within 60 days and hope to have the work under way by summer.

        “After the decision is made, we would more than likely let an emergency contract to get the work finished as soon as possible,” Ms. Patton said.

        The stretch in question runs from just north of the Fox Highway in Liberty Township to Ohio 123 in Franklin. There were no fatalities on that part of the interstate during 1998, 1999 or the first 10 months of 2000.

        “It's very puzzling, and it's frustrating too, to not know the cause of the problem,” Ms. Patton said. “There's no common thread among the various accidents.”

        Butler County Sheriff's deputies say the still-unidentified victim from Tuesday's fatal crash was traveling south in a Plymouth about about 5:30 p.m. when he crossed the median and struck two northbound cars, an Audi and a Dodge Intrepid.

        The Plymouth flipped and burst into flames. Other drivers said they tried to rescue the man, but he was unable to escape.

        Robert Hockman, 56, of Springfield, was driving the Intrepid and was airlifted to Miami Valley Hospital. He was in serious condition Wednesday.

        Jon Wittoesch, 42, of Dayton, and two children were in the Audi. They were treated at Middletown Regional Hospital and released.


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