CLAXTON—The Tennessee Department of Transportation is considering modifying a 2.6-mile section of Clinton Highway where there have been 10 fatal crashes in a decade. The four-lane roadway could be reduced to three lanes with a passing lane and a center turn lane.
The proposal was presented at a community meeting at the Claxton Community Center on Thursday evening. It wasn’t a TDOT public meeting, but TDOT officials gave a presentation at the request of Anderson County officials.
There have been 10 fatal crashes in 10 years on a 2.6-mile section of Clinton Highway between Edgemoor Road and the Anderson County-Knox County line, TDOT said.
“That’s pretty high in a small section of roadway,” said Nathan Vatter, TDOT regional traffic engineer. “It’s a significant number of fatalities.”
In addition to the fatal crashes, there have been 11 crashes with incapacitating injuries, 87 other injuries, and 252 total crashes.
The short section of roadway includes a hilly, curvy area with no median or center lane. The roadway shoulders are limited in areas, the speed limit is 50 mph, and there are several areas with no buffers between traffic traveling north and south, meaning vehicles zoom past each other around curves while moving in opposite directions.
TDOT outlined two alternatives to help reduce fatal and injury-causing crashes, and improve safety and access to the highway, during the Thursday evening meeting.
“We’ve looked at this route for many years,” Vatter said.
The first proposal was to widen Clinton Highway to five lanes, including a center turn lane, with shoulders. But that project could cost about $30 million, take 15 years, and require the state to acquire right-of-ways, Vatter said.
Funding that five-lane project will be difficult, said Steven Borden, TDOT Region 1 Director. It’s also not feasible based on traffic volumes, TDOT said.
Borden said there are other steps that can be taken in the meantime.
The other steps are included in the second alternative presented Thursday. TDOT plans to resurface the 2.6-mile section of Clinton Highway in 2017. As part of that project, the department could change that stretch of highway to a three-lane roadway with a passing lane in one direction, wider shoulders, and a continuous center turn lane.
TDOT said the proposed center turn lane in the middle of the three-lane highway would provide a buffer between vehicles traveling in opposite directions, reduce rear-end collisions, and set up a “safe refuge” for turning traffic. Adding a center turn lane can reduce crashes by 37 percent, Borden said.
There would also be seven-foot paved shoulders, which would help emergency and disabled vehicles, provide a “recovery area” for cars that stray off the road, and help mail carriers and right-turning traffic, TDOT said. Adding paved shoulders can reduce crashes where vehicles leave the road, known as “roadway departures,” by up to 47 percent, depending upon the shoulder width, the department said.
“If we’re able to do that now, we’re talking about saving lives,” Borden said of the proposed center turn lane and seven-foot shoulders.
The five-lane widening and other improvements could still be done later, Borden said.
Under the modified three-lane proposal, the passing lane would sometimes be in the northbound lanes and sometimes in the southbound lanes.
TDOT said the three-lane roadway with a center turn lane would be adequate for the hourly traffic volume on Clinton Highway. The current four-lane has the capacity to handle more than 8,000 vehicles per hour, but currently only serves about 1,600. That’s an excess capacity of about 6,800, TDOT said.
Even with the modified three-lane roadway with passing zones, there would still be an excess capacity of close to 1,600 vehicles per hour, according to TDOT’s presentation.
Under the three-lane proposal, there would be a one-third mile section of roadway between Mehaffey Road/Strader Road and Lonesome Dove Road that would be three lanes—one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. There would be no passing lanes there. There have been bad crashes in that area, Vatter said.
TDOT said the $900,000 cost of the modified three-lane project is feasible, about $29 million cheaper than the five-lane project, and the project would improve safety. It would not require the state to acquire right-of-ways, and there are no environmental or utility issues. Unlike the five-lane proposal, it would not affect local businesses and residents, TDOT said.
But there seemed to be general dislike, even some hostility, for the department’s proposal at the Thursday evening meeting. Some worried about the potential impact on businesses in the area, and some were concerned about the proposed center turn lane. They called it a “suicide lane,” saying people would use it to pass. A few weren’t pleased with the perceived roles of state and local officials, saying the project appeared to be a “done deal” that they’re just now hearing about.
Some proposed changing the speed limit, while others supported a stoplight at Mehaffey Road, the site of a fatal crash in April.
TDOT countered the idea that the three-lane project is a “done deal.” The department said the project started after an April meeting between Anderson County, TDOT, and local and state law enforcement officials that focused on fatal and injury crashes along Clinton Highway. But the department said it hasn’t made a final decision yet and is not sure when it might do so. The department said it is collecting input and could have more meetings if it deems them necessary.
TDOT also doesn’t expect the center turn lane to create a traffic hazard.
There are two other projects planned on Clinton Highway, which is also known as State Route 9. The first is to resurface Clinton Highway from Edgemoor Road, also known as State Route 170, toward Clinton, possibly in 2018. The second is intersection improvements at Clinton Highway and Edgemoor Road. Anderson County expects to soon improve that intersection near Claxton Elementary School, and TDOT plans some geometric and signal improvements there, possibly in 2017.
See a TDOT handout on Clinton Highway here: Clinton Hwy Handout.
See the TDOT presentation here: Clinton Hwy (Anderson County) 7-7-2016 Community Meeting.
See photos from the Thursday evening meeting here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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