By MELINDA J. OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times
Three fatal crashes have occurred on Veterans Outer Loop in less than nine months, a tragic series of events that has captured the attention of Barren County residents and officials.
While opinions are mixed on the best approach to improving safety, many who frequent the loop agree that driver awareness is the primary factor in the incidents along the roadway.
The first of the three most recent fatal collisions was at the loop’s intersection with Franks Mill Road on June 4, when 46-year-old Kathy Cross of Horse Cave was killed when the car she was driving was struck by a dump truck. After more crashes at the intersection in subsequent days, the Kentucky Department of Highways launched a “traffic safety audit,” installed more-visible signage and moved stop strips closer to the intersection so drivers could see approaching traffic earlier.
Since July 1, three crashes with injuries and a dozen noninjury collisions have occurred at that location, according to statistics gathered by the Barren County Sheriff’s Office through the Barren-Metcalfe County Emergency Communications Center.
On Sept. 30, 50-year-old Glenn Alan Kingrey of Glasgow died when the motorcycle he was driving was struck by an SUV at the loop’s intersection with Happy Valley Road. And on Jan. 22, 69-year-old Delmar Lloyd of Lejunior died when the Chevy Tracker he was a passenger in during a funeral procession on U.S. 68-Ky. 80 East collided with a 1998 Pontiac.
In 2010, Ricky D. Ervin, 54, of Summer Shade, died in a two-vehicle collision between U.S. 68-Ky. 80 West and Ky. 90 near Tractor Supply Co.
Aside from the fatal incidents, dozens of injury and noninjury accidents have occurred since segments of the loop began opening several years ago.
Brooke Dilley, a supervisor at the Dollar General store on U.S. 68-Ky. 80 East, where Lloyd was killed Jan. 22, said that even before that incident she thought more traffic signals or at least caution lights should be installed, “because people treat it like a parkway.”
It is common for other vehicles to pass her when she’s going the speed limit, and “this is a pretty long distance to not really have to stop or anything,” she said of the stretch of the loop between that 68-80 East and U.S. 31-E.
From the storefront windows, “you see people run those red lights constantly,” Dilley said.
Scott Morgan, the store manager, said he doesn’t drive on the loop as often as some, but he sees a need for a flashing caution light at Franks Mill because “it’s such a long way across the intersection.”
Jessica Long, a customer at the store, said she really believes the loop is dangerous, but because of drivers, not the infrastructure.
“People need to pay more attention,” she said.
Jo Ann Caffee, an employee at Sally Beauty Salon Equipment & Supplies, can see the loop’s intersection with Ky. 90 from the store. Her children live in Edmonton but work in Glasgow and drive the loop nearly every day. Caffee travels it once or twice a week and enjoys the convenience it offers.
She said the state could install rumble strips or install other safety features, but none would likely help until drivers focus on the road.
“People have to get off the phones and concentrate on driving,” she said.
City, county, state officials respond
Portions of the loop are within the city limits and others are in the county. Officials with both governments have, at times, lobbied for additional safety measures and both city and county law enforcement agencies contribute to traffic patrols and prevention efforts.
Glasgow Mayor Rhonda Riherd Trautman said she receives a lot of calls and emails about safety on the loop, and she refers them to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet office in Bowling Green. But she has also spoken several times with Chief District Engineer Greg Meredith of the transportation cabinet.
“We’ve been interacting with them, and I know the (Glasgow City Council) members have said they’ve gotten calls, mostly about the darkness at night,” Trautman said. “We have investigated and encouraged them to put lights in at some of the entrances and they said they couldn’t do that ... I guess from a budget standpoint.”
She said city officials tried to determine if grants or other funding was available to help install more lighting, but she was told that state standards “require so much light that we, as a city, could not possibly afford to do that on our own.”
Wes Watt, public information officer for the transportation cabinet’s District 3 office, said the most recent traffic counts for segments of the loop are from 2012. The average daily traffic on the portion from 68-80 West to Ky. 90 was 8,290, and the daily average for the section from 1-E to 68-80 East was 3,203.
“Obviously, when the new, final phase (from 68-80 West to Ky. 1297) goes in out there, traffic is going to increase,” Trautman said.
Trautman referenced an accident spotter map the Glasgow Police Department receives periodically from the transportation cabinent, saying, “It’s alarming when you see the little dots along the [loop], compared with the rest of the city.”
The map GPD has now was produced in July but doesn’t appear to include the Franks Mill fatality.
Julie Ann Williams, public affairs officer for GPD, declined to comment on behalf of the department about specific concerns on the loop.
“The facts are on the map, and that speaks for itself. ... Because they are state roads, we have very limited say in those things,” Williams said. “We can, however, encourage citizens who feel there are exacerbated issues there ... to express their concerns.”
Those comments should be directed to whichever government entity maintains any given road, she said; in the case of the loop, that is the state.
Williams said GPD and law enforcement in general does what it can through educational efforts to help prevent accidents.
“However, in most cases, we are called after the fact to investigate accidents that happen as a result of driver inattention, distracted driving, etc.,” she said. “If citizens are traveling certain areas of the roadway that they feel are or that have been statistically shown to have safety issues and concerns, we ask that they take that into consideration while traveling that particular area and take extra precautions.”
Mike Houchens, public information officer for the Barren County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff’s office still sees the most issues at the loops’ intersection with Franks Mill.
“The thing about the outer loop is it’s still relatively new to everybody,” he said. “But if people would slow down and pay attention, it would help reduce accidents, not only on the loop but at any intersection.”
Many of the crashes he’s seen there are comparable to those that occur on parkways or interstate highways.
“It’s an open road, and the speed limit is 55 miles per hour, so if you are at 55 miles per hour, whether it’s a two-vehicle or a one-vehicle, it has potential to be a bad accident,” he said. “Inattention is a major contributor to the ones I have personally worked there.”
Another factor, he said, could be that drivers don’t take into enough consideration how traffic-light systems work.
“The yellow light means yield. It doesn’t mean speed up to try to beat the red light,” Houchens said. “I have worked a couple of wrecks at [U.S. 68-Ky. 80 and the loop] where one party says they had a yellow light and the other party says they have a green light. I can’t back up time and go look and see [which light was which color]. I can only go off what the operators involved in the collision state occurred. Obviously, at some point, if you have a yellow light and you proceed through that intersection, you will lose vision of that light. ...
“We patrol these areas and try to be vigilant in these areas, but accidents are just that. A lot of people get behind the wheel and throw caution to the wind, because they think ‘It can’t happen to me.’ It breaks my heart to work fatality accidents that could have been avoided [with a little more driver attention]. We can do everything we can do as far as law enforcement is concerned to prevent accidents, and we do, but we have to have a little help from drivers.”
Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer, who has communicated with state highway officials about the Franks Mill intersection, said she believes the state has done what it can, and that constituents haven’t contacted her about it lately.
“This seems to me like pure carelessness on the part of drivers,” she said of ongoing concerns. “We all need to pay attention.”
She echoed Trautman’s comments about improved lighting being a common suggestion from residents.
“They’d love to have some street lights out through there, but that can’t happen,” Greer said. “It is dark out there, but it’s dark on all county roads.”
While the transportation cabinet continually monitors roads for safety, no audits are being conducted by the state on any particular location right now, according to both Watt and Meredith.
Meredith said his office evaluates every fatality report individually and looks at factors surrounding the collisions to see what countermeasures might mitigate them. He said the three most recent fatalities were tragic but were not roadway issues. Driver inattention is the most frequent factor in accidents overall, he said.
“It’s so hard to hear [that] if you’ve been in a crash or had a loved one in a crash, but it’s so often the case,” Meredith said.
Traffic lights are installed based on traffic volume, he said. At Franks Mill, “there’s not nearly enough traffic on the side street to warrant a signal,” he said. He also pointed out that the presence of a signal does not guarantee the collisions will end. Traffic signals are present at two of the three intersections where the most recent fatalities occurred.
In regard to the lighting, the only locations the state pays for lighting, by regulation, is at interstate and parkway ramps. He said it would be nice if the state could light every roadway in such a manner, but it’s not financially feasible. In any other location, there must be a “demonstrated nighttime crash problem, and we don’t have that anywhere [on the loop] yet,” Meredith said.
The state can issue a permit for local governments to install lighting at their expense, he said, naming as examples the street lights on Louisville Road and along portions of Ky. 880 in Bowling Green.
Supplemental signage to advise of upcoming streets or roads other than the standard black-on-yellow “+” signs or the black-and-white “junction” signs for upcoming state or federal highways becomes a cost issue as well.
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