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Fatal Sycamore intersection will be expensive to fix

Intersection needs work, but straightening it could cost $6M

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 10:28 p.m. CST
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Vicki Moore kneels down June 20 next to a cross for her son as cars drive around the sharp turn of Plank Road near Moose Range Road in Sycamore. Jonathan Moore, Vicki’s son, was killed there as a passenger in a drunken driving crash in the early morning of June 21, 2003.

SYCAMORE – Learning another person had died at the same curve where her son, Jonathan, did 11 years ago stirred anger and disbelief in Vicki Moore.

“It made me sick that no one had ever done anything about that curve,” Vicki Moore said.

Although officials have talked about the hairpin curve at Plank Road and Moose Range Road for more than a decade, the angle of the curve remains unchanged and likely will for many years to come.

DeKalb County officials have decided to take a more dramatic approach to fixing the curve than has been discussed in the past. Although they say straightening more of the road will make it less treacherous, the bigger project will come at a cost.

Officials estimate it will take $6 million to straighten 1.5 miles of Plank east and south of Moose Range, a cost that local authorities say they can’t cover alone.

That means it could be as many as 20 years before the curve is realigned.

“We see the need, so we are working on it,” County Engineer Nathan Schwartz said. “We will continue until the job is done.”

A dangerous curve

Jonathan Moore was 20 when his girlfriend, Patricia DeMaio, crashed the Jeep Cherokee they were driving west on Plank Road. The Jeep left the road and rolled before striking a utility pole near the curve at Moose Range Road, killing Moore. DeMaio, who police said was driving drunk, pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and was sentenced to six months in DeKalb County jail and 48 months of probation.

“It was a living nightmare for everyone,” Vicki Moore said of the June 21, 2003, crash. “There’s nothing as unfathomable as losing a son.”

Vicki Moore was instantly reminded of the treacherous curve when 20-year-old Tiffany Taylor, of DeKalb, died April 12. Police said Tiffany’s brother, Tyrus, crashed there after driving drunk from a party outside Hampshire.

“I got really angry about this pole and this hairpin curve and this pole,” Vicki Moore said. “I just want to avoid anyone feeling any more pain and suffering.”

Alcohol was a factor in both fatalities, but alcohol or drug use was a factor in only 9 percent of the 44 crashes that have happened in the past five years, according to crash reports obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Driving too fast for conditions was the leading cause of crashes at the curve, being listed as the primary cause for 41 percent, or 18, of the accidents. Weather was the second leading cause, though it was blamed for half as many accidents.

Though officials agree the curve itself can be dangerous, road conditions don’t appear to be the impetus for most accidents. The road condition was listed as dry in 43 percent of the crashes, with ice as a factor in 27 percent, the reports show.

The intersection itself is only identified as related to a crash in five cases, most of which involved icy conditions. Regardless of what role the documents show the curve played in accidents, DeKalb County Chief Deputy Gary Dumdie said it shouldn’t diminish the need for change.

Nearly 9,000 vehicles traveled the road daily in 2013, according data from the DeKalb County Highway Department.

“Plank Road is a very traveled road,” Dumdie said. “It’s a sharp curve. There’s no question about it. If it could be straightened out some, I think it would be beneficial.”

The plan

When the DeKalb-Sycamore Area Transportation Study group releases its 2040 long-range transportation plan next year, a dramatic realignment for Plank Road will make its first appearance on an official planning document.

A smaller realignment that would just address the curve appears in comprehensive plans at both the county and the city of Sycamore, but it was driven by development in the farm field adjacent to the curve, Schwartz said. The new realignment would stretch for 1.5 miles and address other problems with Plank, such as hills and ditches.

“Safety is what caused the county to review that alignment and move to a more dramatic alignment change,” Schwartz said. “The straighter the road can be, the safer it will be.”

The curve at Moose Range isn’t the only deadly place on that stretch of Plank. Three other people have died in crashes within 1.5 miles of the curve in the past decade.

The dramatic realignment would cost $6 million, Schwartz said. Although the county has yet to break out exactly where the $6 million would be spent, it will have to go toward land acquisition, engineering and construction.

“We’d love to do it right away,” County Board Chairman Jeff Metzger said. “But there’s only so much money to go around.”

Other projects, such as paving Peace Road and fixing the Keslinger Road bridge, will come first. The county doesn’t have $6 million to devote to one project, and Schwartz applied for a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Improvement Program last year, but the state denied the request.

In its denial, IDOT officials suggested updating chevron signs on the road to warn drivers, which the county did. The state also suggested widening the shoulder of the road or paving it. Schwartz plans to submit an application to the same grant program for the shoulder work next year.

Until the county receives a big grant, Plank Road will have to wait its turn.

“If we had the money set aside for the project and we didn’t have 200 miles of highway to maintain,” Schwartz said, “we could do that road next year.”

By the numbers

Crashes at Plank Road and Moose Range Road in the past 5 years:

Primary causes

Driving too fast for conditions: 18, 41 percent

Weather: 9, 20 percent

Other factors: 9, 20 percent

Failure to reduce speed: 4, 9 percent

Alcohol or drugs: 4, 9 percent

Weather

Clear: 31, 70 percent

Snow: 7, 16 percent

Rain: 2, 5 percent

Severe cross wind: 2, 5 percent

Fog: 1, 2 percent

Sleet/hail: 1, 2 percent

Road conditions

Dry: 19, 43 percent

Ice: 12, 27 percent

Snow/slush: 8, 18 percent

Wet: 5, 11 percent

Source: DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office

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