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Traffic, fatal crash prompt safety concerns about Deaver

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A once-quiet country road that evolved into a main route for workers traveling to Woodside Industrial Park has nearby residents calling for a safety upgrade.

But some believe the problem isn’t Deaver Road per se — it’s the drivers who routinely exceed the 45 mph speed limit.

A fatal crash has added to concerns about the road, which runs west from Bethel Village to the industrial park.

Taylor Compton, 18, died after the right wheels of her car dropped off Deaver Road’s south side near County Road 150W around noon July 22. The Columbus North High School graduate died after her car slid into a utility pole, investigators said.

While speed was considered a factor in the accident, some residents point to the fatal accident as an example of why Deaver Road is dangerous and due for an upgrade.

Problems: Width, drop-off, speeding

The shoulderless road is too narrow, with a sharp drop-off on the south side into a drainage ditch, said Paul Duncan of South Jonesville Road.

Workers use the road to get to the industrial park, but it’s also an alternate route for Shadow Creek Farms and Country Wood Farms subdivision residents, Duncan said. Those housing additions are just north of Deaver on County Road 150W.

Drivers in the subdivisions often choose Deaver to get to State Road 11, instead of County Road 200S, to avoid traffic congestion near Southside Elementary School, said Country Wood Farms resident Sara Green.

“Deaver has the same traffic volume as Carr Hill Road and should receive the same attention and improvements,” Duncan said. “It is unsafe, plain and simple.”

A $2 million project that began last April off Jonathan Moore Pike is widening Carr Hill Road and adding curbs gutters, storm sewers and bike lanes.

The drop-off on each side of Deaver Road gets steeper every time the road is resurfaced, said Areta Gilland, whose home is along the road.

While the road surface next to her property used to be fairly even with the ground, the drop-off now is so steep that if a vehicle slides off the pavement, it’s almost impossible to get back onto the road, Gilland said.

“It’s an awful drop-off, and it needs to be fixed, but they don’t fix it,” Gilland said. “The city (of Columbus) took this road as part of theirs, so they are responsible.”

While most of Deaver Road has been annexed into the city, the maintenance of a small section near the cemetery across from Bethel Village is still the legal responsibility of the county.

However, oral agreements between City Garage Manager Bryan Burton and Bartholomew County Highway Superintendent Dwight Smith usually determine who actually does the maintenance on roads with joint jurisdictions, according to county highway engineer Danny Hollander.

Policing Deaver is considered the responsibility of the Columbus Police Department, but accidents and incidents will be handled by the sheriff’s department when a deputy is able to respond more quickly, said Columbus Police Department Capt. Mike Richardson, who is in charge of the uniformed division that investigates traffic accidents.

While the city will be in charge of improvement projects on Deaver, the county likely will be asked to reimburse the city a percentage of the costs, based on how much of the project is in the county’s jurisdiction, Hollander said.

On the south side of Deaver, a 4½-inch drop-off exists between the road surface and the ground at the accident site, while a 5½-inch asphalt buildup can be found at the intersection with Denois Street.

A 2-foot drop from the ground to the drainage ditch exists where Compton’s car crashed, while the same distance on the west side of Jewell Village was measured at 27 inches.

Increasing safety

Nearby manufacturing company representatives also are concerned about employee safety on Deaver when they are traveling to work.

Deaver is busy throughout the day due to employees trying to reach companies in both Woodside and on the south side of State Road 58, said Brian Weber, senior engineer of facilities for Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing.

“Widening the road, as well as adding shoulders and turn lanes, would improve the safety for the employees working in the industrial parks, and for the residents residing in the local area,” Weber said.

A case could be made that Deaver should receive the same type of improvements recently completed along County Road 200S because of increased traffic, said Carl Lienhoop, Bartholomew County Commissioners chairman.

Last year’s $1.6 million renovation project widened the road south of the county fairgrounds and Southside Elementary School and added left-turn lanes, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and storm sewers.

The greatest danger for driving on Deaver Road comes from those drivers who regularly exceed the posted speed limit, Lienhoop said.

“If they do make improvements, the motorists will just drive faster,” he said.

Like Lienhoop, Columbus City Engineer Beth Fizel said she believes that if drivers would observe the posted speed limit on Deaver, they would be substantially safer.

“I can put up signs and lower speed limits; but if there is no enforcement, it’s pretty well useless,” Fizel said. “You just can’t engineer for the human factor.”

Not immediate priority

After Deaver Road was placed on the 2010 Columbus Thoroughfare Plan, it became one of 14 road and street projects classified as “anticipated long-term” projects, according to the Columbus city website.

While that places a $2.3 million upgrade of Deaver Road, from State Road 11 to County Road 175W, on the city’s radar, no time frame is planned for improving the road, Fizel said.

Sixteen projects on the plan have a higher priority than Deaver. Seven are described as “current,” while nine are classified as “anticipated medium-term.”

So the question for local officials becomes whether there’s sufficient evidence to justify moving Deaver up on the priority list.

Advocates for an higher priority might be disappointed by the numbers. From 2009 through the end of July, 28 accidents reported on Deaver Road were investigated by the Columbus Police Department. And 18 accidents were investigated by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department during the same period, bringing the total to 46.

The worst year was 2011, when 11 traffic mishaps were reported along Deaver Road. But most were caused by snow and ice-covered pavement at or near the intersection of State Road 11, said Sgt. Matt Harris, spokesman for Columbus Police Department.

When 2011 is excluded, Deaver Road has averaged slightly fewer than eight accidents a year. In comparison, a recent traffic study showed the top five crash intersections in Columbus each average about 15 accidents annually.

“When you talk about a high-volume of accidents, Deaver Road is really not on the list,” Richardson said.

“It’s not that we have several more accidents on Deaver Road than other streets. It’s just that when they happen they are usually bad and memorable,” Harris added.

His point was illustrated Oct. 10, 2010, when a car traveling more than 100 mph hit a bump on Deaver near the PAAL football fields and sailed 66 feet through the air. The vehicle split into three pieces and burned after hitting a tree in the front yard of Gilland’s home. The two occupants, Anthony Rooker, 48, and Justin Shinolt, 32, both of Columbus, were killed.

Policing at officer’s discretion

An officer is routinely assigned to patrol city neighborhoods south and west of downtown Columbus, and that includes Deaver Road, Richardson said.

If traffic complaints arise in a particular area, the department will increase patrols in that location, but if no concerns are reported, the amount of patrolling in a specific neighborhood is usually left to the discretion of the patrolman, Harris said.

But police assigned to Deaver Road also patrol neighborhoods off Jonathan Moore Pike, which averages about 36 traffic mishaps a year and has three of the 10 most accident-prone intersections in the city, the traffic study shows.

Individual officers are encouraged to use their discretionary time to create a presence in the city’s most accident-prone areas, Richardson said.

While accident figures for Deaver don’t come close to those on Jonathan Moore Pike, Richardson noted both roads have something in common: a speed limit that’s 15 mph above the 30 mph limit posted throughout most of the city.

“When the speeds go up, the numbers and extent of injuries also go up,” Richardson said.

Hollander said he sympathizes with those who believe Deaver is unsafe.

“There’s not a lot of shoulder on Deaver; and if someone gets a wheel off, it’s going to be bad,”

Hollander said. “But speed is definitely a major factor there. People have to use their own good sense.”

Although the debate of speed versus width for Deaver Road is likely to continue, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said that Compton was the third young person from the Columbus area to die from a motor vehicle accident in as many months.

Cameron Briot, 11, was killed in a May 8 accident, while 17-year-old Delanie Scroghan, died near Grandview Lake four days later.

“To have three young people killed in separate accidents within that small span of time is very unusual,” Fisher said. “As coroner, you realize what these tragic deaths do to a family.”

Fisher suggests the community may be best served by using the recent tragic fatalities to reason with young, inexperienced drivers and persuade them to slow down, pay attention and be more attentive to their surroundings, Fisher said.

Lienhoop agreed.

“If Deaver Road is dangerous, so are a lot of other roads in both the county and the city that are just like it,” he said.

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