With three fatalities already this year, law enforcement officials are wondering what is happening at the seemingly wide open intersection in Rock Island that keeps claiming lives.
“The best advice I can give is look, then look again,” said Highway Patrol Capt. R.C. Christian, who spent considerable time Wednesday at the scene of the most recent traffic fatality at the intersection of Sparta Highway and Rock Island Road near Dollar General. “There is one thing that did occur to me while I was there. When you pull up to turn onto Rock Island Road from Sparta Highway, you’re sitting at approximately a 45-degree angle to oncoming traffic. In most vehicles there’s a support bar (between the windshield and passenger-side window) that can somewhat distort the driver’s view. It’s a blind spot.”
One person was killed in a two-vehicle crash at that intersection Wednesday. That follows two deaths in January after a car pulled into the path of a tractor trailer.
Wednesday’s fatality is the fifth at the intersection since 2002. There have been 20 wrecks with injury there during that span, and 52 total accidents, according to 911 records.
Capt. Christian said the only sure way to combat the problem is for drivers to take their time and make doubly sure the coast is clear.
“We’ve increased our presence there and will continue doing so,” Christian said, noting there are several options being considered, even reducing the speed limit approaching the dangerous intersection.
The captain said slowing the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph would have some impact. “At 65 mph, you’re traveling over 95 feet per second,” Christian said.
As to what changes will be made at the intersection, TDOT will have the final say.
“I’ve been trying for four years to get something done out there,” said 7th District Constable Jason Dodson. “Anything we can do to make people more aware would help. Doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Dodson noted that along with a flashing caution light and maybe some signage for those who are turning, the state might consider banning all parking on the side of Sparta Highway where vendors often sell their products. Dodson said that would help safety for both passing motorists and vendors.
State Rep. Paul Sherrell said he has been working the legislature to get something done at the intersection since the double fatality there in January.
“It’s a bad situation,” Sherrell said. “I suppose it’s a process where the state is doing studies before doing something. But we’re working on getting something done out there.”
Capt. Christian noted that, given the fact Warren County is leading the district with eight fatalities so far this year, the Highway Patrol will continue its increased enforcement.
“These aren’t numbers. These are people we know, our neighbors, family and friends,” Christian said. “I hope people will take those few extra seconds out there and make sure before they turn.”