SYCAMORE – Ken Tonaki has worked as a music teacher for Sycamore School District 427 for more than 20 years and has been a resident for about a decade, so he frequently commutes through the Peace Road and Route 64 intersection.
Tonaki, 45, said he has never been in a crash at that intersection himself, but whether it’s that intersection or Peace Road and Route 23, he regularly sees emergency vehicles at either spot.
“It’s unusually high, the accident rate that I’ve observed over time,” Tonaki said.
Safety improvements are coming to the Peace and Route 64 intersection in the next year or so, if everything goes as planned, according to the DeKalb County Highway Department. Those improvements include wider turn lanes, widening Peace Road for 2,000 feet north and for 1,000 feet south of Route 64, so cars can merge farther from the intersection, and offsetting left-turn lanes by several feet so that cars across the intersection on Peace Road can see around each other more easily.
Nathan Schwartz, highway engineer for the county, said preliminary engineering planning for the project – which the DeKalb County Board approved $210,762.45 in funding for during its
May 16 meeting – will begin soon and will go until December. He said the hope is to have bids go out for the project next spring, after the preliminary engineering, and to begin construction next summer or fall.
Abby Mungai, 23, of DeKalb said her vehicle was rear-ended at Peace and Route 64 in 2013 as she was slowing down at the red light going south on Peace. She said she didn’t think the crash happened because of that intersection specifically, but it’s one of the larger and busier intersections in the county, and she could see how a lot of crashes could happen there, especially with people speeding either way on Peace.
“That makes sense,” Mungai said. “I see a lot of cars on the side of the road there [along Peace] in general.”
Schwartz said safety improvements to the intersection have been on the county’s radar for a while, because of the number of crashes that happen there. He said there were more than 140 crashes, one of them fatal, from 2010 to 2014 at Peace and 64, according to data the county provided two years ago when it submitted the federal grant request for the $2.1 million project.
During any five-year period, Schwartz said, about 49 million vehicles drive through the intersection on average. Of the more than 140 crashes that happened at the intersection, most are rear-end collisions and a few have caused serious or fatal injuries, he said.
“The numbers are relatively small, but if it’s you or your loved one in a crash, it’s a serious issue,” Schwartz said.
DeKalb County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Andy Sullivan said there have been 143 crashes at the intersection from 2013 to 2017. The high-water mark came in 2016, when there were 45 crashes, according to the data.
The 2017 number showed a decline to 38 crashes, but that was still more than three times the 12 crashes that occurred in 2013 and ’14.
Sullivan said the primary causes for crashes at Route 64 and Peace are common – speeding and following too closely. He said if people are more aware of their driving, slow down and plan their trips accordingly, that could reduce crashes.
Sullivan said the planned intersection improvements will benefit the community overall and hopefully will help make the intersection less congested. He said he looks forward to anything the highway department can do to reduce the number of crashes as well.
“If he can make it safer, that’s wonderful,” Sullivan said.
Although big changes to the intersection are planned for 2019, Schwartz said, the county already has made smaller changes to alleviate congestion, such as shorter traffic signal cycles. He said smaller changes that might have gone unnoticed over the years have helped. He recalled cars backing up to the Kishwaukee River bridge on a somewhat regular basis in 2012 and 2013.
“There are always little things going on, and sometimes you may not notice it, but we do strive to address safety throughout the county on all of our roads,” Schwartz said.