Deadly intersection requires new thinking

September 13, 2013

Last week’s deadly crash at the intersection of U.S. 23 and Town Branch Road is a grim reminder that, despite years of talk and study, as well as numerous accidents, the roadway is no safer today than it was when it was built.

We have heard the statements — these things take time, the project must be studied, plans are being made. Still, it seems like something more could have been done, and it shouldn’t have taken more death along this stretch of highway to get the ball moving again.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, there are now renewed calls in the community to place a traffic light at the intersection. However, the state continues to maintain that a stoplight at that location would likely be even more dangerous, due to the difficulty heavy trucks would have stopping when coming downhill.

We cannot say for sure who is right, but we have to trust that those in positions to work on these matters know more than we do. Still, we are not satisfied that all possible avenues are being pursued.

In neighboring West Virginia, we see many traffic lights at T-intersections that make use of pass-through lanes. The way such a solution would work at Town Branch would be that the southbound lanes would be divided, allowing traffic in the lane furthest from Town Branch to continue through, even when the light is red, while traffic in the left passing lane would come to a stop, allowing traffic entering U.S. 23 to do so safely. It seems clear to us that doing this would address the problems at the intersection much more quickly than any of the alternatives currently being offered, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of a more traditional stoplight.

From what we hear, the solutions offered to remedy the troubled intersection involve highly complicated efforts to rework the intersection, perhaps adding a frontage road. While those plans might indeed work, they will be far more expensive and take far longer to come to fruition. In the meantime, the addition of workers and equipment in the area could only make the road even more dangerous during construction than it already is. On top of it all, we would likely be waiting years for such a project to even begin, making it almost certain that more deaths will occur.

However, the addition of a stoplight, with a pass-through lane to allow downhill traffic to continue unimpeded, could likely be completed within a matter of weeks. The cost would be much, much less, making it unnecessary to wait for the legislature to fund it. And it could begin saving lives far sooner than anything else currently on the table.

We cannot recall seeing pass-through lanes, similar to those in West Virginia, anywhere else in Kentucky, so maybe that is why that is not being considered as an alternative for Town Branch. But this just might be the proper time to try something new.

There is an old saying that extreme times cause for extreme measures, but we are not sure that is always true, particularly when simple changes could begin saving lives much sooner.

The Floyd County Times