Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Top 10 traffic accident spots in Blaine County

Seven of the top 10 are between Hailey and Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

The intersection of Hospital Drive and state Highway 75 is one of the most accident-prone areas in rural Blaine County. Seven of the top 10 areas for traffic accident frequency during the past five years are along the 12-mile stretch of highway between Hailey and Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

The easiest place to get into an automobile accident in rural Blaine County is along a two-mile stretch of state Highway 75 just north of Hailey.

Statistics provided by the Idaho Transportation Department show that over a five-year period, the one-mile stretch of highway starting north of Hailey at milepost 118 is the most accident-prone rural area in the county. The area starts near West Meadow Drive and proceeds north to about Spruce Way.

Drivers who make it safely through the milepost 118 area immediately encounter the second-most accident-prone area in rural Blaine County—milepost 119, which runs from Spruce Way north to Buttercup Road.

The two miles of highway were the scene of 42 automobile accidents from 2004 through 2008. From the 42 accidents, there were three fatalities and 24 other injuries.

Conditions don't get much better heading north. In fact, seven of the most accident-prone areas in rural Blaine County from 2004-2008 were on the 12-mile stretch of highway between Hailey and Ketchum. The other three were south of Bellevue.

All 10 of the locations are on Highway 75, which accounted for 396 traffic accidents during the five-year period. There were 14 fatalities and 215 injuries.

In comparison, there were 102 traffic accidents on U.S. Highway 20 in Blaine County during the five-year period. There were six fatalities there and 68 injuries.

ITD keeps accident frequency and severity statistics by milepost designations or major intersections.

Ranked third during the past five years was the milepost 124 area south of Ketchum. The area starts near Gimlet Road and runs north to about Clear Creek Canyon Road.

Timmerman Junction, where Highway 75 meets Highway 20, was ranked fourth.

Fifth was the milepost 125 area, which runs from Clear Creek Canyon Road to Blue Haven Lane, just north of the intersection of Highway 75 and Hospital Drive.

Sixth was the milepost 123 area, which runs from about Timber Way north to Gimlet Road.

The intersection of Highway 75 and Hospital Drive was ranked seventh.

Eighth was the milepost 126 area from Blue Haven Lane north to Elkhorn Road.

The intersection of Glendale Road and Highway 75, south of Bellevue, was ranked ninth.

Also south of Bellevue and ranked tenth was the milepost 107 area, which starts north of Baseline Road and runs north to about Walker Drive.

Highway 75 Expansion

Highway 75 between Hailey and Ketchum is a heavily traveled, mostly two-lane roadway, posted at 55 miles per hour but where traffic often moves closer to 60 or 65 mph. Just north of Hailey, and in the Gimlet and St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center areas, the highway is intersected by numerous small roads and driveways.

Wild animals, most commonly deer and elk, frequently traverse the area and elsewhere in Blaine County along Highway 75. Collisions with wild animals were listed as the reason for 79 accidents on Highway 75 during the five-year period.

Rear-end collisions, with 161 occurrences, were listed as the most common type of accident on the highway from 2004-2008. There were 87 rollovers on the highway during the five years.

A Highway 75 expansion project has been in the works for the past decade. If the project comes to fruition, the highway will be expanded to four lanes from Bellevue north to Ketchum and will have center turning lanes along much of the 27-mile stretch of highway from Timmerman Junction to north Ketchum.

"This is an indication that we need to keep pushing on the items in the EIS," said ITD District Engineer Devin Rigby, referring to an Environmental Impact Statement on the project completed in 2008.

Since then, ITD has mapped the area, has awarded a contract for design and is working on right-of-way procurement.

The biggest holdup on the project is funding. ITD estimated the cost at $250 million and has only $27 million secured.

"It will still probably be a few years before we see construction started," Rigby said. "Bringing that up to a four-lane configuration will provide a significant improvement in safety."

In the meantime, ITD continues to work with cities and Blaine County to improve safety. New traffic and warning lights have been installed recently at some intersections, roadway turnoffs have been widened in some areas and flashing lights have been installed to warn of migrating deer and elk.

Timmerman Junction

Timmerman Junction is the only one of the top 10 accident spots in the county that is included on ITD's "high accident location list," which is used to determine funding priorities.

Rigby said the intersection made the list because of its potential for high-speed, high-impact collisions.

ITD is currently forming a team that will be comprised of ITD, Blaine County and Idaho State Police officials to study the intersection to see what safety improvements can be made.

"It is truly miraculous that we haven't had fatalities there within the past five years, but there have been some very severe accidents at that intersection," Rigby said.

Terry Smith:

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