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Monday crash renews traffic light questions at intersection

News File Photo A scene from a crash on Monday at the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Miller Street. The crash has renewed questions about whether the traffic signal at the intersection needs to be changed.

ALPENA — The Alpena Municipal Council is still waiting on the results of a study requested eight months ago regarding an intersection where a crash Monday afternoon endangered the lives of two Alpena children.

The coronavirus pandemic kept the city engineer’s office from sharing the required data about options to increase safety at the intersection of 2nd Avenue and Miller Street, according to Assistant City Engineer Steve Shultz.

Monday’s crash — caused by a driver failing to yield to oncoming traffic at the intersection, according to police — tipped a sport utility vehicle on its side, requiring police aid in extracting the driver and two students of nearby All Saints Catholic School.

Nobody was hurt in the crash, but the incident recalled suggestions proposed at a city council meeting in February to update the signal at that intersection to reduce crashes.

At that meeting, families and staff of All Saints Catholic School said a fix was needed both to minimize crashes and reduce confusion at the corner.

Sullenger told the council in February that 12 crashes occurred at the intersection of 2nd and Miller from 2015 through 2018.

The intersection currently utilizes a single hanging traffic signal, flashing red toward Miller Street drivers and yellow toward drivers on 2nd. Residents of the area have called the signal confusing and said traffic speeds through the intersection, including when children are coming and going to and from the nearby school.

Sullenger, at the meeting, proposed a three-way light during school hours, after which it would return to the blinking yield and stop lights.

The council, declining to act, asked Sullenger to investigate other options, such as using a three-way light that only changed when vehicles were waiting on Miller.

That option would be new to Alpena but is in use in cities downstate and could be effective at the intersection, Shultz said.

The engineer’s office did look into that possibility and gather prices, but the information was never shared with the council, Shultz said. The information-sharing was stalled because of the coronavirus pandemic and associated slowdowns by contractors, he explained.

There is no plan for when the requested information will be presented to the council, and the engineer’s office is concerned about the possibility of having to tear up the intersection during the school year if a significant change is needed, Shultz said on Wednesday.

In addition to multi-vehicle crashes, pedestrians have been seriously injured at the intersection.

In December 2018, a woman was hospitalized with broken bones in her legs and face after she was hit by a truck while crossing 2nd on her way to a church service.

Several years earlier, a 7-year-old survived being run over by a truck turning off of 2nd while the boy was crossing Miller. At the time of that incident, the corner utilized a traditional three-color traffic light.

At one time, a standard three-color light was necessary at the intersection, Shultz said. Workers at Lafarge North America plant, Besser Co., and Fletcher Paper Co. bustled down both roads, especially at shift changes.

The change in industry on the north side reduced the need for a standard stop light on 2nd. Before it was changed to a blinking yellow light — prompted, Shultz thinks, by a lightning strike that put the light into flash mode — residents requested the light be changed to prevent unnecessary waiting on the less-busy road.

A 1957 study of Alpena traffic signals suggested improvements to what was then a crucial intersection.

At the time, the city was home to five traffic signals — three on Chisholm Street, operated by the Michigan State Highway Department, and two operated by the city, at Park Place and Miller, and a newly installed signal at Miller and 2nd.

At that time, the Abitibi Price Corp. Alpena Plant — now the site of Decorative Panels International — had just sprung up, and a new college had recently taken root down Miller. Traffic from Besser, Habitant Fence Co., and LaFarge also flowed steadily along the Miller Street axis, the report noted.

“This signal has failed to fulfil its assigned purpose,” the 1957 report read, with traffic on the busy north side of town still backed up by left-turning drivers clogging the intersection as they waited for the signal to change.

The report’s writers suggested turning Miller into a one-way street, with traffic flowing in the opposite direction on parallel Oldfield Street.

The report also said 2nd should be turned into a two-lane road by prohibiting parking near the intersection.

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