Safety audit: Move cable barriers further off I-94

Posted at 2:33 PM, Nov 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-30 14:33:56-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Transportation, Michigan State Police, and Federal Highway Administration are recommending some changes along I-94 after a 193-vehicle pile up last January.

One of the suggestions released Monday in the safety audit was moving the cable barrier away from the inside shoulder, more to the interior of the median.  That would still limit head-on crashes where one vehicle goes across the median into the oncoming traffic, but will help prevent backups caused by minor slide-offs.

The audit also calls for more electronic signs, more lighting and more freeway courtesy patrols.

Many daily commuters like Biddergy President Ed Ouellette consider the crash site on I-94 near mile marker 90 an accident hot spot.

"It's a terrible stretch," said Ouellette.  “That Galesburg, Climax area tends to be in my eyes a hot spot: every time you come over the hill there’s something going on and traffic is backed up.”

Yet, according to the safety audit, officials said the crash site is not a hot spot prone to accidents. Among the 94-page report's many recommendations, it mostly boils down to ongoing projects, roadside training, and encouraging safe driving.

“We also want to educate the public on the steer it, clear it law," said MSP F/Lt. Jim Flegel.

"I still don’t think that there’s a lot of people out there that know that if their car is drivable in a crash, and they’re not injured or hurt, they can move it off the roadway so it’s not causing those secondary crashes out there.”

State police Captain Michael Brown cited crash statistics along I-94 between 2014-2015 stating driving too fast for conditions caused the majority of these accidents.

“There was 2,129 crashes: 77 percent of those by all law enforcement agencies, across the 94 corridor were coded too fast for conditions," said Brown.

“We continually work on, I call it the “three E’s:” education, enforcement, and emergency response.”

Meanwhile, MDOT officials shared projects set for the future, including efforts slated for the next five years. In the Southwest I-94 corridor these five-year projects include: resurfacing; adding a third lane only between Lovers Lane and Sprinkle Road; and relocating cable barriers between mile markers 89 and 92 away from the median-side shoulder.

“I don’t think adding a third lane would necessarily make it more safe," said Steve Brink, MDOT Southwest region traffic safety and operations engineer.

“What happens in this corridor until then is we try to operate it as most effectively as possible: we try to be out there managing a winter storm event at the right time, using the right materials and the right techniques to keep that roadway passable.”

Brink said he did not have a number as to how much it would cost to expand the entire I-94 corridor, though reiterated it is not cost-effective. He said the majority of the funding for these improvement projects comes from the Federal Highway Administration, specifically the federal gas tax, and then MDOT matches 20 percent for most projects.

The January crash killed one person and injured 18. Included in the 193 vehicles were a truck hauling fireworks and one with formic acid.

Read the full I-94 safety audit here.