Safety Study on Deadly White Eagle Lounge Intersection Was Issued 7 Weeks Ago: No Traffic Light or Speed Limit Recommendations
FlaglerLive | February 9, 2017
Seven weeks before a three-vehicle crash killed five people at the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and U.S. 1 on Sunday (Feb. 5), the state Department of Transportation issued a safety study about that precise intersection, one of the most crash-prone in Flagler County.
The report was based on engineer Daniel D’Antonio’s observations of the intersection over several weekdays and a weekend, and analysis of a year’s crash data, which included six collisions, 12 injuries and two fatalities. (D’Antonio is an engineer with HNTB Corp. of Lake Mary.) It analyzed both the intersections of Old Dixie and U.S. 1 as well as that of Trojan Road and U.S. 1. Trojan Road is a dirt road that dead-ends at US 1, immediately north of the White Eagle Lounge. Old Dixie, which merges with County Road 325 just before the U.S. 1 intersection, is immediately south of the lounge.
But the safety recommendations are not likely to satisfy Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly, who almost immediately after the crash on Sunday called the state’s Interim transportation secretary and urged her to consider adding a traffic light at the intersection. Staly followed up with a detailed letter the next day, with more extensive crash data than the Transportation Department’s report contained, and a claim on speeding on U.S. 1 contradicting the DOT report (which Staly had not seen).
“While the speed limit is posted at 65 mph most cars exceed the posted speed limit,” Staly wrote the secretary. “Just last week one of our deputies stopped a car traveling 100 mph because ‘the driver was late to work.’ This area also has a long stretch of open highway with no traffic control devices between Seminole Woods Blvd and Plantation Bay on U.S. Highway 1.”The report, on the other hand, states: “Traffic on US 1 appeared to be traveling at or just above the 65 mph posted speed limit.” The report does not specify whether the engineer was capable of clocking traffic. Nor does Staly’s letter specify more comprehensive speed analyses at that intersection, though sheriff’s deputies who routinely patrol the area have presumably collected more reliable observations over years than one engineer’s observations over a few days.
The report made four recommendations:
- Remove the acceleration lane in front of the White Eagle Lounge and replace it with a grassed shoulder along that frontage. The grassed shoulder should also define a driveway at the north property boundary of the site and Trojan Road.
- Remove the substandard full median opening at Trojan Road, which currently enables traffic from Trojan Road to make a southbound turn at the intersection, and southbound traffic to make a hard left onto Trojan. As an interim improvement, consideration should be given to prohibiting northbound U-Turns at the full median opening at Trojan Road.
- Stripe the westbound approach on Old Dixie as a dedicated left and right turn lane, so vehicles may more clearly define their intention to go right or left at the stop sign with U.S. 1.
- Refurbish the stop line at Old Dixie Highway and US 1.
The report does not recommend a traffic light at the intersection. Right now there’s are stop signs at Trojan Road and at Old Dixie, where they end on U.S. 1, and overhead flashing beacons—flashing orange on U.S. 1, to advise caution, and red on Old Dixie, to require a stop.
The report does not recommend a change to the median area of the intersection with Old Dixie, where last week’s crash centered. It does not recommend a change in the posted speed limit on U.S. 1—65 mph in that zone—even though it notes that a “superelevation” of U.S. 1 at the intersection with Old Dixie (essentially, a pronounced slope in the pavement) requires turning vehicles to go slowly, with “pavement scares” in the pavement indicating frequent scraping from low vehicles or trailers.
And it makes no recommendation to change the median zone even though the engineer observed that the concrete median island at the intersection “appeared to cause hesitation between some southbound left turning and westbound left turning motorists.” The engineer continues: “The configuration requires southbound left turns to nearly complete the maneuver before westbound left turns can begin.”
Why the Department of Transportation is not recommending a traffic light or changes to the median is unclear. Steve Olson, the department’s spokesman for this region, did not return a call Thursday.
But the report focuses on the amount of traffic at the intersection, which hints at why the recommendation for a traffic light is absent: traffic is not that heavy: “The highest turning movement on US 1 occurred during the AM peak period and was the southbound left turn movement with 115 vehicles per hour from 7:15 to 8:15 AM. The northbound right turn movement had 29 vehicles per hour from 4:45 to 5:45 PM.” Similarly, “The highest turning movement from Old Dixie Highway on the westbound approach was 126 vehicles per hour turning right from 4:00 to 5:00 PM and 18 vehicles per hour turning left from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM. Westbound left and right turns were observed to have minimal delay and a maximum queue of four vehicles.”
The report analyzed crash data from the end of May 2015 to the end of May 2016—two rear ends, two rollovers, one right-turn and one angle collision. Four of the collisions were the result of drivers pulling out of Old Dixie, in the way of traffic on U.S. 1—just like the cause of the fatal crash on Sunday, and that therefore may have been avoided by a traffic light.
Staly’s letter included some crash data from January 2014 through January 2017, with 207 crashes at or in the vicinity of the intersection, 147 of which resulted in injuries.
“While I am not a traffic engineer,” Staly (who was at the scene of the crash Sunday) wrote the transportation secretary, “I do not believe lowering the speed limit alone is a viable solution. Our agency and FHP do not have sufficient staffing levels to enforce the speed limit to the level necessary to have an impact on the traffic flow. Drivers will just continue to exceed the speed limit and those that are caught will just incur a larger fine. To me this is not a solution. My recommendation would be to install a fully functioning traffic signal along with signage north and south of the intersection on U.S. 1 warning drivers they are approaching a traffic signal. This is needed because of the proximity of the curves to the intersection,” both on the north and south sides of the intersection.”
The transportation department’s full report is below.