Committee commissions $18,000 study that will examine options for accident-riddled Highway V-W crossing
Less than three months after another in a series of crashes at the intersection of highways V and W injured five people, an Ozaukee County committee took the first decisive step toward addressing the problems that plague this crossing on the well-traveled thoroughfare between Port Washington and Grafton.
The Public Works Committee last week approved a $17,965 contract with Gremmer & Associates Inc., a Fond du Lac-based consulting engineering firm, to pinpoint the problems at this Town of Grafton intersection and study redesign options that include designated turn lanes, traffic signals, a four-way stop and a roundabout.
“Clearly we have to do something at this intersection,” Public Works Director Bob Dreblow said. “There have been too many accidents there.”
The committee’s action comes in response to a resolution passed Dec. 11 by the Grafton Town Board calling for the county to fix design problems at the accident-riddled intersection.
The Grafton Village Board passed a similar resolution Monday in advance of a meeting of the county’s Traffic Safety Commission at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the Justice Center. The commission is to discuss the problems at the intersection and be briefed on the study commissioned by the Public Works Committee.
Gremmer & Associates will study factors ranging from design flaws to traffic volume. Accident data will also be a significant part of the equation.
According to Capt. Jeffrey Taylor of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department, there have been 48 accidents that resulted in 46 people injured and one fatality at the intersection since 2000.
In several cases, the circumstances were the same — a driver on Highway W was trying to cross a four-lane thoroughfare and hit a vehicle on Highway V. Because Highway V traffic is typically traveling at least at the posted 55-mph speed limit, the results of crashes can be serious.
On Oct. 5, 2012, 45-year-old Rex Borgenhagen of the Town of Grafton was driving his motorcycle north on Highway V when he was hit by a sport utility vehicle on Highway W. Borgenhagen died of his injures.
The scenario in the most recent serious crash at the intersection was almost identical. The driver of an SUV attempting to cross Highway V at W hit a car that was southbound on V. Five people, including all three in the car that was hit, were injured, some seriously.
“It seems like once a week you see broken glass and car parts on the road in this area,” Diane Fullerton, who lives on Highway W and frequently travels through the intersection at Highway V, said shortly after the crash. “I have a neighbor who refuses to drive in this area because it’s so dangerous.”
In both cases, the drivers of the SUVs were blamed for failing to yield to vehicles on Highway V, but officials say the design of the intersection confuses motorists and contributes to accidents.
One of the issues, they say, is that the four lanes of traffic on Highway V — two in either direction — are divided by a wide, unmarked break in the median where vehicles trying to turn from Highway W onto V or cross the highway stack up in disorderly fashion.
“This is such a wide open area that people get really confused,” Dreblow said. “Maybe it will take some channelization with turn lanes and even some curb and gutter to solve the problems. I can tell you that just throwing some paint down won’t do it.”
Another factor, one that would explain why the county has not addressed the intersection design sooner, is an increasing volume of traffic. For decades, Highway W resembled a rural road that served essentially local traffic. Now, with the burgeoning east-side development in Grafton, Highway W has become a preferred route to retail development that attracts heavy traffic with stores such as Costco and facilities like Aurora Medical Center.
“The volume of traffic on Highway V has always been pretty steady, but I think part of the issue is an increased volume on a portion of W,” Dreblow said. “That’s just my perception. Perception is usually reality, but we need some data before we start jumping at solutions.”
Data is what the Gremmer & Associates study will provide, and it will be essential to finding the correct solution to the problems at the intersection, Dreblow said.
“A temporary solution might be lowering the speed limit, but even before you do something like that you want at least some preliminary data because if the problem isn’t speed, then lowering it won’t solve the problem,” he said.
The study will take several months to complete since speed surveys and traffic counts may have to wait until spring to get accurate information, Dreblow said. But there is a sense of urgency associated with starting the process because of a February deadline to apply for hazard elimination funding, which typically pays for 90% of the cost of projects intended to make dangerous highways safer.
In the interim, the county will consider temporary improvements, which in addition to lower speed limits could include signs warning drivers of the dangerous intersection, Dreblow said.
“Signs don’t stop people from doing stupid things, but at least they would alert people to the hazard,” he said.