Two dozen accidents in five years, 13 people injured; and last year, the death of a 15-year-old boy.
Every year, Gary Pool studies the county’s busiest and most dangerous intersections, and one cross street on the county’s southwest side has consistently hovered near the top of the list.
The intersection of county roads 500W and 300S is prone to accidents, officials say, and Pool is proposing the county build a roundabout to make it safer. He hopes to fund the $2.68 million project in part with a federal grant aimed at reducing traffic deaths and injuries.
If Hancock County is tapped for the money, the grant would cover just more than $2 million of the project’s total cost. Local officials would cover roughly $655,000 — 10 percent of the grant and the cost of right-of-way and land acquisition needed for the project.
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Pool points to crash data he’s collected over the past few years as evidence steps his department has taken in the past to improve the safety of the intersection aren’t enough.
In the past five years, the intersection has been the site of 24 accidents, during which 13 people have been injured and one boy, 15-year-old Andrew Hall, died.
Hall was riding in a car that went through one of the stop signs on County Road 300S and collided with a minivan in 2015.
Hall’s death reignited conversation about the problem intersection, where county officials have intervened in the past — trimming back trees to increase visibility and installing larger stop signs, for example.
The number of accidents at the site the past five years peaked in 2015, with 10 reported accidents, eight injuries and one fatality. The small changes the county made last year seem to help, data shows. So far, only one accident has been reported.
But the intersection averages five accidents a year, Pool said, the benchmark to qualify for a grant from the Highway Safety Improvement Program, a federal aid program that seeks to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries on public roads.
There are stop signs on County Road 300S, and drivers on that road must wait for a break in traffic on County Road 500W, which does not have stop signs, to proceed, with oncoming traffic going up to 50 miles per hour. A single-lane roundabout would force everyone to slow down, Pool said.
Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Campbell said altering the intersection into a roundabout could help alleviate some of the traffic issues local police have seen in that area in recent years.
Typically, the accidents that occur there because drivers traveling east or west on County Road 300S miss the stop signs posted at the intersection, he said.
Campbell said he supports building a roundabout, but he admits it’s not a perfect fix. Accidents still happen at roundabouts, especially when drivers fail to yield to oncoming traffic.
The responsibility of eliminating accidents falls entirely on the shoulders of drivers, Campbell said: the only way to ensure a crash doesn’t happen is to pay full attention to the roadway while behind the wheel, he said.
Pool said installing a roundabout is the best solution to making the intersection safer, but it’s an expensive option — one the town and county can’t take on without financial assistance.
New Palestine annexed half of the intersection in 2007, and the other half is in Hancock County’s jurisdiction. Pool is asking the Hancock County Council and the New Palestine Town Council to split the cost that would not be covered by the grant — about $327,500.
New Palestine Town Manager Dave Book met with Hancock County officials about the proposed roundabout, but the council has yet to take official action on the proposal. The town needs to draft a letter of support for the grant application.
Whatever the county needs to pursue the grant, New Palestine will comply, Book said.
The county will compete against other central Indiana communities for the grant that might have intersection resulting in higher numbers of accidents. Still, Pool is hopeful. If the county isn’t picked this year, he’ll apply again in 2017 and 2018, he said.
Staff writers Kristy Deer and Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this report.