BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Accidents are up significantly at the intersection of Route 128 and Elliott Street (Route 62), despite a recent $23 million upgrade to the interchange designed to make driving safer.
While it may be easier to slip on and off the highway, thanks to new ramps and traffic lights, officials say a tricky left-hand turn from Elliott Street, across two lanes of traffic, onto the new ramp to Route 128 north may be to blame for the increase in accidents.
Danvers police responded to 51 accidents at the intersection in the first 10 months of 2011, 79 accidents during the same period last year and 87 accidents during the same 10 months this year, according to a letter from Danvers police Public Safety Analyst Sarah Slavin.
”Of the 87 accidents this year, 35 were due to an operator taking a left turn, and six were identified as rear-end collisions,” Slavin said.
Figures show the intersection averaged 8.6 accidents a month in the first 10 months of 2013, up from 5.3 a month for the entire year of 2011, the year before the new ramps opened.
“Worth noting,” Slavin said in her report, “the new on and off ramps began being used on or about June 1, 2012, and 67 of the 79 accidents that occurred from January — October 2012 happened after the on-ramps opened.”
The continuing number of accidents this year, with many of the accidents taking place between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon and in the late afternoon, suggests something needs to be done about the left turn from Elliott Street eastbound onto the Route 128 north on-ramp, officials said.
Police Chief Neil Ouellette said this turn has been the scene of numerous “courtesy crashes,” as the left-hand turn has to cut across two lanes of Route 62 westbound traffic. The intersection gets tricky when a green left-turn arrow disappears, leaving a steady green light for both directions.
“One lane waves you by, and the other lane T-bones you,” Ouellette said. It’s a factor in many crashes police see on Route 114. The problem is one of visibility, as the road curves slightly in the area. “The car in the second lane doesn’t see the vehicle,” Ouellette said.
A red left-turn arrow would remove this danger, said state Rep. Ted Speliotis, but state highway officials are concerned it would back up traffic heading east toward Beverly.
Slavin said that the actual number of accidents at the interchange could be different from those police have recorded. The crash data does not include accidents reported to state police in which Danvers police did not respond, or minor accidents in which motorists exchanged papers without police involvement.
Limitations in data collection mean that an accident on Route 128 itself, or at nearby intersections of Elliott and Liberty streets and Elliott Street and State Road, is also included in the tally.
Speliotis said that the police’s accident data from prior years does not take into account the numerous rear-end fender-benders that used to take place at the top of the old northbound ramp, accidents that occurred when the highway lacked room for merging traffic.
“Prior to the ramps being built, there was an accident every day on the ramps themselves that were not being reported to Danvers police,” Speliotis said.
To address the increase in accidents, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation held a “road safety audit” on Nov. 22 with town officials, police, state police and Speliotis. The two-hour meeting included a visit to the ramps and a meeting at Danvers Town Hall to discuss traffic problems at routes 62 and 35, where the interchange was also rebuilt.
“Certainly, there was evidence to suggest that there was an increased rate of accidents after people learned the new geometry,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. “There is an opportunity to improve what is there, and I was pleased MassDOT put this meeting together and put as many players together as they did.”
“We are preparing a report for review in the coming weeks,” MassDOT spokesman Michael Verseckes said in an email. “Once the findings and any recommendations are analyzed, MassDOT will explore ways to expedite the implementation of any improvements.”
Speliotis said it will be a month before MassDOT comes up with its findings, and then there will be a comment period after that.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Accidents at Route 128 and Elliott Street (Route 62)
|YEAR||FREQUENCY||AVERAGE PER MONTH|
*Represents crashes for the first 10 months of 2013. Data includes accidents at Elliott Street and State Road and Liberty and Elliott streets. Source: Danvers Police Department