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Bus accident sheds light on dangerous intersections

Rescue personnel take persan ambulance from multi-vehicle accident with school bus Rte 173 Kilbourne Road Wadsworth. | Thomas Delany Jr.~

Rescue personnel take a person to an ambulance from multi-vehicle accident with a school bus on Rte 173 and Kilbourne Road in Wadsworth. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 28, 2013 6:04PM

When a school bus full of children rolls over, people take stock.

The April 5 crash, which left one motorist dead, has drawn attention to the intersections along Route 173 and others nearby. Some have stoplights while others only have two-way stops.

The involving the school bus, a Jeep Wrangler and a Jeep SUV is still under investigation.

The crash site — the stoplight intersection at Route 173 and Kilbourne Road near Wadsworth — was too dangerous to leave as a two-way stop sign intersection, according to Jae Miller, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Transportation. So IDOT installed a stoplight in August 2011.

There were 53 crashes and one fatality at that intersection between 2004 and 2011, according to IDOT data.

“There’s so much traffic on Route 173 that people would wait at the stop sign, waiting to get across. They’d wait and wait, and you’d see people taking chances,” said Mark Kirschhoffer, chief of the Newport Township Fire Protection District. “It was a great improvement when they put the stoplight there; it was needed.”

But that intersection is not the only dangerous one in the area.

The intersection of Dilleys and Wadsworth roads has had the highest number of incidents, with 42 crashes and 33 injuries from 2007 to 2011, according to IDOT. The heavily-trafficked two-way stop sign intersection is about 5 miles away from 173/Kilbourne.

Kirschhoffer said he hoped Dilleys/Wadsworth was next on the docket for improvement.

“It takes time. There’s a lot of intersections we’d like to get them to review because there have been some significant accidents. Traffic is getting heavier and heavier,” Kirschhoffer said.

Wadsworth trustee Geralyn Hansen said she was surprised that Route 173/Kilbourne got a stoplight before another spot: the intersection of 21st Street and Delany Road. Hansen, 52, has lived on that intersection for more than 26 years and has witnessed more than a dozen serious collisions from her home.

“I’ve seen traffic at 173 and Kilbourne. It’s not nearly as congested as 21st and Delany. I’ve been trying to get a stoplight in here for years ... I don’t know why one takes priority over another one. It doesn’t make any sense,” Hansen said.

The most recent data from IDOT doesn’t show that intersection to be as accident-prone as 173/Kilbourne. Delany/21st saw just 16 crashes and no fatalities from 2007 to 2011 while 173/Kilbourne had almost twice as many accidents and one fatality in that same time frame.

“There are a fair share of accidents there through the years. We’ve seen some horrific ones. ... Especially with all the construction, people are looking for different routes,” Kirschhoffer said.

Determining where to install traffic signals isn’t just about crash totals, said Jon Nelson, Lake County Division of Transportation (LCDOT) engineer of traffic.

“Signals (need) to be installed based on volumes on the roadway, the number of cars on the roadway,” Nelson said.

To get a stoplight installed, the department of transportation first conducts a study. The study evaluates traffic volumes and if another type of intersection would work better. An engineering study would consider a roundabout, more stop signs or a traffic signal, Nelson said.

The last count at 21st/Delany showed volumes were pretty low, Nelson said. That was done three years ago. He said LCDOT has no record of a request to evaluate that intersection.

He also pointed out that the 21st/Delany intersection would need turn lanes added if a traffic signal were to be installed.

In 2009, a secondary stop sign was added to that intersection and in 2011, red flashing lights were added to those stop signs.

“(That was done) in order to help people. Before that, there were a few instances where people didn’t see the stop sign,” Nelson said.

Hansen said the flashing lights were an in improvement.

“I’m hoping before my four-year term ends that I’m going to see a stop light at this corner (21st/Delany),” Hansen said.

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