Sheriff calls for safety upgrades at dangerous crosswalk

UPDATE (May 3, 2019)-- Plans are in the works for the signal to be installed, but there's no timeline set.

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BARTHOLOMEW COUNTY, Ind.-- Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers is calling for safety upgrades to a busy crosswalk that has become a safety concern in the downtown Columbus area.

“Over the last probably nine years, we’ve had over 31 accidents,” Myers said.  “We need to get this resolved because I’d hate to see somebody get killed or seriously injured.”

The crosswalk on 2nd Street leads to the main entrance to the Bartholomew County Jail and Justice Center.  Employees and visitors to the building walk from a public parking lot across the street and use the crosswalk at all hours of he day, Myers said.  Accidents happen when drivers fail to stop for pedestrians crossing the street or sudden stops result in rear-end collisions, he said.  The crossing is marked with crossing stripes across the roadway and bright yellow “pedestrian crossing” signs on each side of the street.

“You have no flashing lights, so you have no warning other than these signs right here,” Myers said.  “And that is not enough.”

Myers said the safety issues really became a problem about nine years ago when an expansion at the jail eliminated parking on the back side of the building.  Since that time, employees and visitors have had to park on the other side of 2nd street and cross on foot.

“All this has been talked about since I’ve been Sheriff, and others Sheriffs have talked about it too, and nothing’s been done,” Myers said.

A main sticking point is that 2nd Street in downtown Columbus is also State Road 46, which is maintained by the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).  While county or city government has the power to upgrade safety features around the highway, safety improvements to the roadway would have to involve INDOT.

INDOT installed the existing crosswalk in 2016 in response to safety concerns.  INDOT spokesperson Scott Manning said the agency build the crosswalk in the middle of the block, in front of the jail entrance, at the request of the sheriff.

“It’s kind of a unique situation where we have a crosswalk that’s mid-block on a busy state highway,” Manning said.

Myers said he’s open to different options for improving safety for pedestrians.  Moving the crosswalk to the nearest intersection could work, or installing new flashing lights could be a solution, he said.

“Either fix it or take it down and put it down here,” Myers said, pointing at the nearest intersection.  “And make it to where nobody can cross here.”

In March this year, an INDOT environmental manager recommended installing a high-intensity activated crosswalk, or HAWK system.  Such equipment allows pedestrians to push a button in order to activate flashing lights when they need to cross traffic.

However, definitive plan for the crosswalk is in place.

“We’re still early in those discussions,” Manning said.  “But a HAWK signal is definitely a type of solution that could be beneficial at that location.”

Manning said a HAWK signal would likely require a mix of funding from the state, county and city to install.

“I think a lot of this comes down to who’s going to pay it and what it’s going to cost,” Myers said.

Bartholomew County isn’t the only community in a similar situation.  Last year, INDOT completed a safety study of State Road 135 through Greenwood.  The study came as a series of accidents raised safety concerns about the SR 135 corridor.  One accident in February 2018 killed 17-year-old Center Grove High School student Sarah Kish.

Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers says he and other city officials are still waiting to hear from INDOT about possible safety improvements along the highly-traveled corridor.

“As of right now, I still have not heard from INDOT of any changes they’ve suggested or anything that they’re doing to upgrade any of the intersections throughout the city,” Mayor Myers said.

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