Road closed for safetyLarry Long has responded to far too many accidents at the intersection of U.S. Highway 53 and Baldwin Avenue. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department deputy remembered an accident last fall involving three juveniles. One car clipped another and spun it around.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Larry Long has responded to far too many accidents at the intersection of U.S. Highway 53 and Baldwin Avenue. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Department deputy remembered an accident last fall involving three juveniles. One car clipped another and spun it around.
“Everybody walked away,” he said. “They could have been killed.”
There have been 14 accidents at the site since 2006, according to Douglas County Sheriff’s Department records, including one on Aug. 27 that sent all three people involved to the hospital in ambulances. To date, none have been fatal.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) identified the crossing as a high-crash intersection, according to Morris Luke, traffic engineer with the Northwest Region of WisDOT. He said there have been eight angle crashes there since 2006, six of which have been accidents with injuries. The majority of them have been T-bone accidents involving cars traveling westbound on Baldwin and southbound on US 53.
“A lot of times that’s the pattern we see,” Luke said. “It’s the same pattern we saw in Hawthorne.” A J-turn was installed at the intersection of County Highway B and US 53 last year to prevent T-bone crashes at that site.
The sheer number of crashes isn’t overwhelming at the Solon Springs intersection, but cross traffic on Baldwin Avenue is fairly low-volume, about 90 cars a day. Couple that with the number of severe accidents there, Long said, and it’s a concern.
“It absolutely is a dangerous intersection,” said Solon Springs Fire Chief John Walt. Added to the mix is the fact that the Solon Springs School is less than a quarter mile away on Baldwin Avenue.
In July, WisDOT sat down with town and village supervisors as well as representatives from the Solon Springs School District and Douglas County to look at options for the site.
“We were just looking at short-term solutions,” Luke said, and the choice that appeared to inconvenience the least number of people was closing the west leg of Baldwin Avenue. Drivers wanting to cross US 53 could just drive half a mile to County Highway A and cross there.
“It’s 15-20 more seconds,” Long said.
Both the town and village boards of supervisors supported the closure in July and the town board sent a letter of support to WisDOT in August, according to meeting minutes.
“Basically the decision was based on safety,” said Long, who is also a town of Solon Springs supervisor.
Luke said that WisDOT is seeking Highway Safety Improvement Program funding to permanently close the road, possibly as early as 2012. But the plan got fast-tracked following the Aug. 27 accident. Both the town and village boards emailed Luke and asked if the west leg of Baldwin Avenue could be shut immediately.
“We said ‘OK, we’ll go ahead,’” Luke said.
The road shut down on Aug. 30, five days before school started.
“If it saves even one of those kids from a traffic accident,” Walt said, he supports the decision.
There have been a few complaints, Long said, in particular from residents who own land at the intersection. Closing access to Baldwin Avenue from US 53 could lower the land’s value as potential commercial property.
“I’m all for development,” Long said, but the issue at stake is safety. “At what point do you put lives in front of people’s property?”
Now that officials know about the safety concern, he said, it would be negligent not to do something about it. The town board put the closure on the agenda for their Oct. 8 meeting after a number of people showed up at the September meeting to discuss it, Long said. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the town hall, 11407 S. Cemetery Road.
The road will remain temporarily closed unless the village and town of Solon Springs decide otherwise, Luke said. WisDOT will find out in about a month whether they get funding to close the site permanently.