New Whiteland officials concerned about US 31 proposal

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NEW WHITELAND, Ind.– New Whiteland Town Council members are expressing concerns about a plan intended to increase safety and traffic flow at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Tracy Road.

According to traffic records presented in a recent town council meeting, the intersection and nearby area has seen 67 crashes in the last three years. 19 of those crashes involved injuries that required medical attention.

The Indiana Department of Transportation is considering a $750,000 plan to redesign the intersection using a J-Turn design, otherwise known as a “Michigan Left” design. The design would eliminate left turns onto U.S. 31 by directing drivers to the right, then having them make a u-turn in gaps in the medians 225 feet away from the intersection.

The design is similar to the one built at Allisonville Road and 96th Street in Fishers, where city officials say they’ve seen a marked decrease in severe crashes since it was built.

Project leader Adam Burns, with the engineering-design firm Crawford, Murphy and Tilly, says the redesign could bring accident numbers down by 20 percent.

“This allows you to use what you’ve got, improve on what you’ve got and improve the safety and improve the traffic flow,” said INDOT spokesperson Harry Maginity.

New Whiteland Town Council members like Frank Vaughn have concerns about the plan.

“They think that they will cut down the number of accidents and make it safer,” Vaughn said. “I absolutely do not believe that’s true.”

Van worries about the early design presented to the council because, unlike the Fishers design, one of the u-turns on U.S. 31 would not be controlled by a traffic signal. That would mean drivers would have to wait for a gap in oncoming traffic in order to make the u-turn.

“They’ve got to find a way to control those u-turn, j-turn, whatever they want to call it, to allow a safe turn to go back the other way,” Vaughn said.

Burns said the southern u-turn location, directing traffic to northbound U.S. 31, did meet traffic flow requirements to install a traffic signal. The northern u-turn location, directing traffic to southbound U.S. 31, did not. However, Burns said, that’s not to say traffic patters won’t change and require a traffic signal in both locations in the future.

Vaughn is also concerned that the intersection is only half a mile away from the Clark-Pleasant Schools bus garage. He says the intersection is a major thoroughfare for school bus traffic in the morning and afternoon.

“You’ll get six, eight, ten school buses at a time,” Vaughn said. “They have to make that u-turn across the two lanes of traffic, get into turn lane that could potentially be already backed up.”

Town Council member John Schilawski is also an assistant superintendent with the Clark-Pleasant School Corporation. He has strong reservations about school buses navigating the j-turn intersection design.

“School buses and u-turns do not mix well,” Schilawski said.

Maginity said any final design for the intersection would include measurements that keep school buses and semi trucks in mind.

“Whatever we do is going to accommodate safe turning by both school buses and semi trucks,” Maginity said.

Vaughn said he would rather see INDOT reduce the speed limit in the area of the intersection and make turn lanes longer, rather than using the J-turn design.

Burns said concerns expressed at the council meeting are being taken into account as multiple design alternatives are being considered and drawn up.

Construction on the project would likely begin in the fall of 2020.

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