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Special Report: Danger Ahead

Updated: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 |
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - In the past 13 months, there have been three deaths on the US-131 business loop north of Kalamazoo.

They have all happened on the curve which stretches less than a quarter-mile long.

Newschannel 3 began digging into what's being done to fix this dangerous area, and the Michigan Department of Transportation says a solution is in the works.

The first thing we found out is that many drivers are confused about what the speed limit is.

It's posted at 35 on Westnedge, but once you enter the freeway, there's no speed  limit signs until after a 90 degree turn.

We found drivers will take this curve from 25 all the way up to 70 miles per hour.

It's just a bend in the road; a simple curve navigated flawlessly by drivers thousands of times a day.

But crashes and fatal accident scenes are forcing action.

“Clearly there are some safety concerns with these curves,” said Nick Schirippa with M-DOT.

And there are many factors to consider: speed, signage, the degree and banking of the curves, and driver behavior.

“We can't drive for people,” Schirippa said.

These are not new problems with this section of road.

“Back in 1999 we originally put a speed limit of 35 miles per hour on the corner,” said Michigan State Police Sergeant Jim Campbell.

Sgt. Campbell investigates crashes for the Michigan State Police. He says political pressure forced the change in 1999.

“Semi truck rolled over and landed on top of a car and killed a lady in a car crash,” Sgt. Campbell said. “Based on that, M-DOT said we have to do something with the corner.”

Now, those black and white 35 mile per hour signs are gone.

It turns out they conflicted with the Michigan Traffic Control Manual.

“(The manual) said that we really shouldn't set an absolute speed on corners,” Campbell recalled. “And we also found that people don't obey black and white signs very well.”

And Campbell says there's been another big change here since 1999.

“At that time the whole business section through there was 55 all the way out to US-131,” he said.

Now just north of this curve, it's 70 in both directions and we found the average driver heading north out of Kalamazoo routinely takes the curve well above it's former 35 mile per hour speed limit.

And those heading south into the curve are frequently moving even faster.

“We're trying to find an optimal speed for those curves,” Schirippa said.

So we met up with some engineers from M-DOT, as well as Schirippa, to do just that, with a sliding dash mounted M-DOT tool.

First we took the curve heading south, then heading back north at the same speed.

After a dozen laps it was clear 35 is a good advisory speed. But both M-DOT and MSP already knew that.

State Police say they have determined a course of action.

First, a black and white 55 mile mile per hour sign will be posted right at Dunkley for northbound traffic, and then a black and yellow 40 mile per hour advisory sign will be posted heading into the northbound curve.

Finally, more chevrons will be installed in the hopes of grabbing drivers attention.

But again, all the signage in the world won't help if drivers chose to ignore it.
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