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Agencies hope to use more detailed data to drive down crashes

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 1:19 p.m. CDT

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The road system in McHenry County is maintained by a hodgepodge of municipalities, townships, the county and the state.

And the system for tracking accidents across the county is equally piecemeal.

Enforcement agencies send accident data to the state, but the state doesn’t track accident locations.

There are 17 townships and 30 municipalities in McHenry County – and that doesn’t count park districts and school districts, many of which maintain their own roads.

Each of these has its own safety and maintenance plans.

“Everybody in some way, shape or form is looking at safety,” said Wally Dittrich, the design manager for the county’s division of transportation.

“All those groups have different amounts of resources, especially when you look at townships. They don’t have engineering departments. Even most of your municipalities don’t have engineering departments.”

The village of Spring Grove tried electronic accident reporting, but is back to doing it by hand because money from the state dried up, Police Chief Tom Sanders said.

“I think there are a lot of good ideas and things out there,” he said. “It just kind of falls flat on its face. It’s manpower and money.”

During the economic downturn, budgets got tight and when people left, positions weren’t filled, he said. If reports were automatic and the state helped out, he said he could see a lot of agencies, the Spring Grove Police Department included, participating.

Spring Grove doesn’t have very many accidents, and 30 percent or 40 percent of the ones it has occur on private property, Sanders said. There’s not so many that staff can’t track them – but to send data on to the county is above and beyond what his officers have time for, he said.

As the Illinois Department of Transportation takes its Driving Zero Fatalities to Reality initiative to the next level, it’s looking to expand access to data and issue data in days instead of months.

The state’s zero-fatalities initiative, started last year, has been most visible in the fatality counts posted on highway message boards.

The state has reached out to McHenry County and seven other counties with the most fatal or severe-injury accidents per road-mile traveled. The other counties are DuPage, Kane, Lake, Will, Winnebago, Champaign and Vermilion.

Last year, 24 people were killed on McHenry County roads – more than in each of the previous four years, when there were 14 to 18 people killed in crashes, according to Illinois Department of Transportation data.

Statewide, fatalities also rose last year by 43 deaths to a total of 961.

The state is working with the counties to identify commonalities in accidents, such as age groups, crash types or deficiencies, and put together comprehensive safety plans, Dittrich said.

The state has added 26 new data fields to accident reports to track factors such as distracted driving.

One thing to come out of this process is the McHenry County Safety Committee, a collection of representatives from government and enterprise. It’s a chance for engineers, law enforcement and educators to trade ideas.

The county also wants to create a website for ideas that different communities implement. It further plans to lend accident-mapping technology to smaller entities that otherwise couldn’t afford it.

“There’s only so much that any one of us can do,” Dittrich said. “We all rely on each other. We don’t have all the money in the world. We can’t add turn lanes and stoplights and make every intersection safer.”

But entities can do little things such as putting up bigger signs, adding reflective stripes to sign posts and increasing lighting, Dittrich said.

The county has some such projects scheduled to address public safety and is looking at solutions such as adding turn lanes and roundabouts.

Intersection improvements are planned for Charles and Raffel roads and at River and Dowell roads in 2014.

Improvements at Charles and Raffel roads were planned to prevent accidents ahead of a problem, Dittrich said. Traffic is growing at the intersection because of Woodstock’s new high school, and there is a fire station nearby and the back entrance to county facilities.

The intersection at River and Dowell roads, just east of Holiday Hills, is right for a roundabout, Dittrich said, because “to make a turn, you’re basically looking backward.” Roundabouts are getting more and more attention, he said.

Wisconsin, for example, has more than 200 roundabouts, according to its Department of Transportation.

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