ALPENA - Michigan State Police have been conducting increased traffic enforcement along a dangerous stretch of M-32 near Walmart. The Michigan Department of Transportation will be meeting with representatives of the big box store Aug. 6. And traffic court hearings are up about 30 percent as confused motorists contest their $100 fines for violations in the targeted area, officials said Monday.
These are some of the actions that have taken place after a three-car accident June 20 sent four people to the hospital.
Data maintained by MDOT showed that 157 accidents occurred on a stretch of M-32, between Bagley Street and the traffic light at The Home Depot over a five-year period ending April 2013. Fifty-seven percent of accidents at the four-way intersection at Bagley were fender benders, but others along M-32 were more serious.
"We have dedicated patrols there and a lot of citations have been issued for those violations," MSP Lt. Mike Hahn said. "We will measure the amount of traffic crashes that have occurred Oct. 1 and then measure again at the beginning of January 2014.
"I am confident as long as our vehicles are seen in the area and enforcing the law, traffic accidents are going to diminish."
Collisions occur when motorists exiting stores on the north side of the road attempt to cross traffic and head back to Alpena, officials said. Many drivers improperly use the center left-turn only lane as a resting spot until they can pick up speed and merge into eastbound traffic.
The center lane is only for left turns from M-32 into area stores and businesses, officials said.
Motorists also are being ticketed for failing to come to a complete stop at stop signs and failing to signal properly when going through the intersection at Bagley and then crossing several lanes.
Earlier this month, Hahn said MDOT and the state police would first have to analyze data to determine what the present conditions were, using a method called the Data Driven Approach to Crime and Traffic Safety, along with figures produced by another program called Dash Board. That effort would go back two years. Once the data identified the trouble spots, police would be out in force looking for violations.
Hahn said a lot of the motorists are surprised when they are pulled over, especially for improper lane use.
"This is such a common driving violation and the problem is this is learned behavior," he said. "They see the person in front of them doing it. They do it and get away with it."
However, the problem is not going to be resolved through ticketing alone, he said.
"We're trying to get the word out to people so they know that these driving habits are wrong, before it's too late and they get caught by a trooper," he said.
MDOT Traffic and Safety Engineer Steve Conradson has been providing data for the effort and working with state police. Walmart, which is impacted by motorist behavior, also be will brought into the discussion Aug. 6, he said.
Meanwhile, motorists who have received tickets are beginning to show up at county offices.
Alpena County Magistrate William Tremain said the county does not keep statistics on traffic tickets, nor when they are issued, but said the number of informal traffic hearing he holds regarding traffic tickets is up about 30 percent.
On Monday, he held hearings for three men aged 19 to 70 who contested their tickets, which ranged from $100 to $110. The citations also carry a two-point penalty that remains on a motorist's driving record for two years.
All three were ticketed July 9 by a state trooper, Tremain said. Each man was confused about why he had been stopped.
"One guy said today he'd seen a hundred people do it," Tremain said.
The man also questioned why he was the only one stopped out of four vehicles he saw make the same maneuver.
"A lot of people assume they can travel in that left turn lane and they can't," Tremain said.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.