An Indianapolis company that analyzes traffic-accident scenes has suggested ways to improve a Taylorsville intersection where a Columbus North student athlete was seriously injured one year ago.
Accident reconstruction analyst Bruce Enz and highway engineer Douglas Head presented detailed recommendations to the Bartholomew County commissioners about how to improve safety conditions at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Bear Lane, where the Feb. 1 two-vehicle accident involving Josh Speidel occurred just after 7 p.m.
Speidel was driving off the access road onto U.S. 31 intending to go north when his Honda Accord was struck on the driver’s side by a Chevrolet Traverse traveling southbound on U.S. 31 at about 50 mph.
The accident occurred in front of the Speedway convenience store, 10471 U.S. 31, less than a half mile south of Interstate 65. Speidel and a passenger had just left the KFC drive-thru on the west side of U.S. 31.
The experts from Injury and Crash Analysis, LLC were commissioned by Columbus attorney Richard Eynon, who leads a small local group attempting to improve traffic conditions along U.S. 31 in Taylorsville.
There are too many unexpected distractions and challenges drivers encounter when coming off northbound Interstate 65 onto southbound U.S. 31 heading toward Columbus, Enz said.
Motorists new to the area are taken off guard by the urban setting, and are often unaware the far right lane of U.S. 31 ends abruptly, forcing them to move quickly into the left lanes, Enz said.
In addition, the exit ramp is so gradual that many drivers don’t realize their turn signal is still on while approaching Bear Lane, which gives other motorists a false impression of whether drivers southbound on U.S. 31 plan to turn into businesses located along the stretch or go straight, Enz said.
There’s also a matter of the 55 mph speed limit between I-65 and Bear Lane, an area with nearly 30,000 vehicles each day, Eynon said.
“It really should be posted at about 40 to 45 (miles per hour),” Commissioner Carl Lienhoop said.
Recommendations presented by Enz and Head included:
•Adding overhead lighting to improve night vision, which is hampered at the intersection by background lighting.
•Utilize the frontage road to continue the exit ramp from northbound I-65 to Tannehill Road (County Road 650N), marking it as a right-turn-only lane with signs and pavement arrows.
•Allowing only right turns at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Bear Lane.
•Provide the frontage road for drivers wanting to make a left turn or those wishing to cross the highway to County Road 650N.
“I’m not here as anybody’s attorney,” Eynon told commissioners during their regular Monday meeting. “The only reason I’m speaking to you today is that I didn’t like what happened. It’s time to do something about that intersection.”
Eynon said he and Speidel were part of a group that played basketball for fun once a week for three years prior to the accident.
From playing basketball with him, Eynon said he saw that Speidel had exceptional reflexes.
“I knew there had to be some reason why this happened,” Eynon said. “And now, we know.”
Speidel, who was critically injured with traumatic brain injury and has been going through rehabilitation, attended the meeting with his mother, Lisa. Lisa Speidel said she always intended to start a public-awareness campaign to accomplish the same goal after her son sufficiently recovered from his injuries. “I didn’t know there were already people who were doing that,” she said. “I know these changes could have prevented the accident.”
She said the family has no intention to file a lawsuit over the accident.
Lisa Speidel, during a subsequent interview, recalled driving through the Taylorsville intersection for the first time about three weeks after the accident.
“I had terrible flashes of what happened,” she said. “Something has to be done about that intersection. I want to campaign to make that intersection safer.”
The Columbus family is willing to do whatever needs to be done, she said.
“We can go to meetings,” she said. “We can write letters. We can just stand by and be cheerleading this group. We have learned to be flexible.”
Eynon urged the Bartholomew County commissioners to scheduled a joint meeting with the Indiana Department of Transportation to communicate the report’s findings and use their influence to persuade INDOT to make improvements.After the attorney suggested the county install overhead lighting, county highway engineer Danny Hollander told commissioners the county doesn’t have streetlights anywhere in the county.“If we put them there, that would be our first,” Hollander said.
INDOT has jurisdiction over all intersections where county roads meet state highways, so INDOT controls approval of any changes the county might want to make, Hollander said.
Harry Maginity, an INDOT spokesman, said he was researching the accident history for that stretch of highway.
Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz recalled that when a development plan was made for a proposed $50 million investment in that area five years ago, an extension of the frontage road from Bear Lane to Tannehill Road was included.
It is likely that while INDOT has long-term plans for that area, the department is likely waiting for a developer to come in with specific plans, Kleinhenz said.
“We can’t wait that long,” Eynon replied.
The commissioners accepted the report and took Eynon’s request under advisement.
Assistant managing editor Julie McClure contributed to this story.
After completing an extensive study that includes a nighttime survey, two representatives of Injury and Crash Analysis, LLC, of Indianapolis issued the following opinions regarding the Feb. 1, 2015, crash between a 1999 Honda Accord, driven by Josh Speidel, and a 2012 Chevrolet Traverse, driven by Janell Foley.
- The pavement was wet, creating reflections and distorting the ambient and vehicle lighting.
- From the intersection, background lighting to the north makes it difficult for drivers entering onto U.S. 31 and looking north to see oncoming vehicles.
- The intersection is extremely wide, requiring a driver making a left turn to cross four southbound lanes on U.S. 31 — and then crossing over a median and the northbound U.S. 31 left-turn lane, finally entering directly onto the 55 mph high-speed lanes.
- There are no speed advisory signs to lower the speed of vehicles on U.S. 31 in that area.
- The marking and lighting of the intersection at which the crash occurred is poor. Because of the curvature and elevation of the approaching roadway, a driver at the intersection cannot see lane markings to verify where approaching vehicles are laterally on U.S. 31 or on the ramp merge lanes.
- Drivers on southbound U.S. 31 or the I-65 exit ramp to southbound U.S. 31 cannot readily determine the location or action of vehicles using the intersections.