Road Commission improves safety

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By Matthew Pizzo
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

Many drivers pass road signs everyday and don’t think twice about the planning and placement that keeps roadways as safe as possible.

Three roadway safety issues regarding advanced warning signs, position of pedestrian crosswalk signs and shielding of a utility pole in the central isle of the roundabout on Park Lake-Burcham Roundabout were raised by citizen Dennis Hansen, at the Ingham County Board of Commissioners meeting Sept. 24.

A senior landscape architect at MSU, Hansen raised the same concerns at the Nov. 13, commissioners’ meeting.

Hansen said he would give the Ingham County Road Department a year to fix the issues and little has been done.

“It’s a safety issue for the public,” Hansen said. “Four sets of eyes are better than two. new sentence. The key is safety — I don’t care who it comes from.”

According to its website, the road department is responsible for more than 1,235 miles of roads outside incorporated cities and villages throughout the county. The department is also responsible for traffic and road signs; and provide the safest road system for county residents.

Bill Conklin, managing director of the department, said he recently met with Hansen on site to review his concerns with county roadways.

Conklin said that, under Michigan law, the department is required to adhere to the Michigan Manual Uniform of Traffic Control Devices .

However, not all roadways are the same and the MMUTCD offers recommendations when dealing with area-specific scenarios.

After observing the utility pole in the middle of the Park Lake Road roundabout, Conklin said the pole is 20 to 25 feet from the inner edge of the roadway, well outside the guidelines for a 15 to 25 mph traffic zone.

According to Conklin, since the roundabout was opened a year ago, there has been only one accident involving the utility pole, which caused no injuries.

Therefore, the ICRD evaluated the level of protection warranted for the pole; and is currently collaborating with Meridian Township to place a berm in front of the pole.

“With 3,000 cars using the roundabout a day and only one accident — that’s a low exposure rate,” Conklin said. “The risk factor there is quite low and it doesn’t warrant a more formal treatment, such as a guard rail or crash cushion.”

Hansen said he was concerned the advanced warning signs were not adequately placed on the downgrade to the roundabout on Park Lake Road, especially in icy conditions.

Conklin said, signs for the north-bound south leg of Park Lake Road were adjusted for drivers’ advanced visibility, because of Hansen’s input at the 2012 board meeting.

“It’s important to talk to somebody who’s involved with traffic planning safety on the campus,” Conklin said. “In order to see what kind of conditions they’re realign with and what kind of student population there is.”

After recently reviewing the sign placement, Conklin said the department is looking to reposition the signs on the south-bound north leg of Park Lake Road as well.

“It’s not the signs themselves — but the drivers’ ability to see the signs that’s important,” Conklin said.

At the 2013 meeting, Hansen also said the pedestrian walk signs along the roundabout obstructed the line of sight between pedestrians and approaching vehicles.

Following his input, the ICRD raised the signs above the necessary line of sight for pedestrians.

However, according to Conklin, the department was unable to place the signs after the crosswalk, similar to MSU policy, because they would obstruct with the yield signs.
Traffic signing engineer of the Michigan Department of Transportation Alonso Uzcategui said every roundabout is different and although the state provides guidelines that road departments must use engineering judgment to decide what’s the safest for drivers and pedestrians.

According to Uzcategui, the state partnered with MSU during the renovations of Michigan Avenue.

After a study, the state decided placing pedestrian crosswalk signs after the crosswalk would be safest for students.

“If you don’t set it (crosswalks) up in the right locations they aren’t going to use it,” Uzcategui said. “That’s the problem you have at Michigan State and that’s why you have to be adjusted from the guidelines — a very unique situation.”

Formerly the Ingham County Road Commission, the county board voted, by simple majority, to dissolve the commission and it is now governed by the board.

District 5 Commissioner Todd Tennis said incorporating the department with the board is more efficient and saves money.
Tennis said the department has been controversial and that made the board’s decision easier.

“We are the road commission in Ingham County,” Tennis said. “We are the body in which members of the public can bring these issues to if they don’t feel like they are getting enough attention from our director or staff.”

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