ELKHART — Two new stop signs on C.R. 13 at C.R. 45 have drawn backlash from some residents who fear the change will lead to an increase in traffic snarls and accidents.
But according to the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners and the Elkhart County Highway Department, the new four-way stop will cut down on accidents at the historically dangerous intersection.
In late July, stop signs were installed on the north and southbound lanes of C.R. 13 at C.R. 45. The decision was made unanimously by the commissioners in early July at the request of the Jeff Taylor, highway department manager.
While there had been hesitation over the years to make the intersection a four-way stop, recent engineering studies concluded there was adequate distance between the intersection and the railroad tracks just south of the intersection on C.R. 13, Taylor said.
Since the stop signs went up, the intersection has become “a nightmare,” says Robyn Chiddister. She lives less than a mile from the intersection and travels the area daily to take her kids to and from school activities.
So far, she’s witnessed drivers get stuck on the tracks as trains approach, increasingly backed up traffic on C.R. 13 and drivers who are disregarding the stop signs, she said.
She’s afraid it will only get worse once school starts.
Chiddister created the page “Take Back Dunlap,” partially dedicated to venting about the intersection. As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 6, it had 128 likes, along with several posts, comments and photos from people upset with the new stop signs.
Bob Harbaugh, a paramedic for the Concord Township Fire Department, is also worried about the change.
“When school gets back in session you have longer vehicles like a bus that needs to stop on other side of tracks — how many people are gonna follow that bus and stop on the tracks?” he said.
Mike Yoder, county commissioner, said he’s received quite a few complaints about the intersection — but the signs are here to stay.
“That intersection’s probably had more evaluation and engineering studies than any intersection in the county. There’s adequate space — people just need to change their driving habits,” Yoder said.
Jay Grossman, engineer for the highway department, said the intersection warranted an all-way stop, considering the frequency of crashes and the volume of traffic on both roads.
“The only other ways to correct the crash problem are a traffic signal or grade separation, which are very expensive projects and will take years for design and construction,” he wrote in an email.
He acknowledged that traffic will get backed up on C.R. 13 during peak traffic periods, “however, backups on C.R. 45 should be less now. An all-way stop is a safety treatment, it generally does not improve traffic flow,” he said.
And while it may be difficult for some drivers to see over the tracks, “approaching them more cautiously, since expecting a stop on the far side, should allow enough time to stop on the far side if there is a queue,” he said.
The distance between the north railroad gate and the white stopping line is approximately 60 feet, which is enough space to accommodate the largest vehicles on the road.
And unlike at a traffic signal, vehicles are less likely to get trapped on tracks near four-way stops because traffic is constantly moving, Grossman said. Flashers at the railroad are also activated at least 20 seconds before a train arrives.
“The highway department always reminds people at all crossings not to stop on the tracks,” Grossman said.
In response to complaints, the highway department has been monitoring the intersection and added additional signage cautioning drivers of the upcoming stop.
Chiddister said she hopes to see the signs taken down until a better solution can be made, but that would require approval from the board of commissioners. That is very unlikely, according to Yoder.
“There is always a trade-off between delay for some users and safety,” Grossman said. “The department and commissioners recognized that delay to drivers on C.R. 13 would increase with an all-way stop, but making the intersection safer for all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists, is of great importance.”