MOULTRIE COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — More than 100 days after a fatal crash at the Illinois Route 32 and Bruce Findlay intersection, Moultrie County officials are still waiting on a green light — possibly in more ways than one.
Not much at the intersection has changed since the September 27 crash that killed five-year-old Tyson Mendoza and longtime teacher Lori Samples, aside from the addition of a blue cross dotted with dinosaurs and dedicated to Tyson alongside Route 32.
It’s not that no one in Moultrie County wants to make changes, highway engineer Jeff Birch said.
It’s that, pending recommendations from the Illinois Department of Transportation, they can’t.
Since late October, Birch said, IDOT has been processing a safety audit of the intersection.
Until that audit is finished, the county can’t move forward.
“What this report will do is provide recommendations to the county and to the local IDOT office…as far as what measures are recommended to make this intersection a little bit safer,” Birch said. “My personal opinion is yes, we need to do something. We’ve had two fatalities recently, we had another fatality in 2010, so we need to do everything we can to make it safer, yes.”
What those measures look like is still to be determined.
It’s not the first time that IDOT has analyzed the intersection’s safety: in 2007, the agency performed an “intersection analysis report” after 21 crashes occurred in a three-year period from 2004-2006.
Back then, the intersection didn’t meet any of the criteria necessary to merit the placement of a stoplight, which included items like large amounts of traffic during peak times of the day, pedestrian volume, or when specific streets experience traffic delays.
But it did merit the installation of a multi-way stop sign because of the number of accidents from 2004-2006.
Per the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which IDOT uses for procedural guidance on whether to install stop signs, an intersection has a “crash problem” if “five or more reported accidents in a 12-month period…are susceptible to correction by a multiway stop sign installation.”
Those crashes include “right- and left-turn collisions as well as right-angle collisions.”
Of the 21 crashes from 2004-2006, 18 were “either turning or angle accidents.”
“A review of the detailed crash reports provided by IDOT further provided evidence that many of these accidents occurred because the driver failed to stop on Bruce-Findlay Road and perceived the intersection to be an all-way stop condition and, therefore, stopped but did not yield to traffic on Illinois Route 32 or failed to see the approaching vehicle on Illinois Route 32,” IDOT’s 2007 report stated.
Accordingly, IDOT determined in February 2008 that “the intersection meets the criteria for a multiway stop and should be made a four-way stop condition to improve the safety of the intersection.”
“Due to the potential for high speeds on Illinois Route 32, it is recommended that a flashing beacon be installed over the intersection and rumble strips be constructed on the approaches to the intersection along Illinois Route 32,” the report stated.
After those measures were implemented, Birch said accident rates did go down.
“It’s been that when changes have been made, you see a little drop, but they tend to rise back up again,” he said. “That’s been the perplexing part of the whole process: the intersection itself is quite visible in all directions, (so) why the accidents keep occurring is part of the mystery: There’s no one thing that you can point out and say ‘this is what’s causing the issue.’”
Birch said safety measures have been slowly put in over the years, starting with stop signs, then changed them to larger stop signs, then added yellow signs that warn drivers that “cross traffic does not stop,” then added lights around the edges of signs and on top of them.
And although crash numbers dropped from 2009-onward (never totaling more than 5 a year until 2017), IDOT data indicates that half of those crashes were turn-related.
“We’ve always known this has been a bad intersection, a dangerous intersection, for years, so you know, it’s not really on your mind on a daily basis until you have an accident like this,” county board president David McCabe said, referring to the double-fatality last year. “The citizens of the county are wanting to do something. Members of the county board also want to get something done. We’ve tried to do as much as we can, but now with this double-fatality, it’s really prodded that to the forefront.”
Birch said he expects to receive IDOT’s finalized report relatively soon; McCabe said that wait has grated on officials’ nerves at times.
“We were hoping to get something done right away and we’ve been trying to be aggressive with asking them because it’s important to everybody in the county that we get this thing resolved as soon as possible,” McCabe said. “It gets a little frustrating to keep hearing (that the report isn’t ready).”
McCabe said the county hasn’t received any preliminary information on what could be included among IDOT’s recommendations, including whether or not a stoplight will be among them. It’s something community members like Tracy Willoughby initially called for shortly after the fatal accident, when she drafted a petition that got more than 10,000 signatures calling for a stoplight.
Whatever it is, the county will comply, Birch said.
“From the county perspective, we’ll do whatever IDOT recommends,” he said.