State takes action on crashes at Route 53 intersection in Joliet
By bob okon email@example.com October 2, 2012 10:04PM
Traffic moves along Rt. 53 near Schweitzer Rd. Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 8, 2012 6:16AM
JOLIET — The state will add flashing lights to a Route 53 intersection where there have been three collisions with semi trucks, one of them fatal, in the past two years.
State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., D-Elwood, said the flashing red and yellow lights will be installed at Route 53 and Schweitzer Road to increase drivers’ awareness of the dangers at the intersection.
“The ultimate goal is to get traffic signals there,” said Walsh, who has been leading an effort to bring a stop light to the intersection.
Route 53 and Schweitzer this year has been the scene of two serious collisions with semi trucks. An out-of-town motorist was killed in an accident last month. And a Providence Catholic High School student spent weeks in a medically induced coma after an accident in March.
State transportation officials, however, require a traffic study that will take months before a decision is made on a traffic light. The warning lights have been promised for sometime before winter.
“I’m hoping sometime before Thanksgiving,” Walsh said. “If not, they’re going to get a call from me.”
An increase in truck traffic is viewed as a big part of the problem. The intersection is between two intermodal yards, where freight is transferred between trains and trucks, in Joliet and Elwood, and is on the way to Interstate 80.
But out of the 10 accidents at the intersection in the last two years, only three have involved semi trucks. And, the truckers have not been found at fault in the collisions.
“As of today, it’s been the people getting into the intersection and being T-boned (by trucks),” Walsh said. “It’s unfortunate, and the truck traffic is only going to increase.”
He said drivers also may be using Schweitzer more often as an alternative to the heavier traffic on nearby Laraway Road, which also could lead to the problem.
Schweitzer Road has a stop sign, but traffic on Route 53 does not stop.
“My belief is people come to that intersection and see the big truck, and it doesn’t look like it’s going as fast as it is,” Walsh said.
Truckers not at fault
Joliet Police Chief Mike Trafton said truckers have not been found at fault. The problem, however, is that collisions between regular vehicles and semi trucks tend to end in serious injuries.
“It’s not a tremendous amount of accidents, but the proportion of serious accidents is huge,” Trafton said. “Most of our accidents in Joliet are minor.”
On Sept. 13, Charles M. Tabaka, 68, of downstate Ivesdale drove a pickup into the intersection where he collided with a semi truck and was killed. The accident occurred on the Thursday before NASCAR race weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, which is ear the intersection.
On March 27, Brittany Pirc, a Providence Catholic High School student, was T-boned by a semi truck while driving a pickup at the intersection. Pirc suffered a traumatic brain injury and spent weeks in a medically induced coma. She still is recovering from the accident.
The stretch of Route 53 running south from Joliet to Elwood once was mostly farmland and has become a major pathway for trucks coming and going from the intermodal yards and the warehouses around them.
“Years ago it was mainly a rural area,” Trafton said. “I think the bottom line is the increased truck traffic, and the people on Route 53 aren’t used to the truck traffic.”
The state will post flashing red lights on Schweitzer where drivers are supposed to stop. Flashing yellow lights will be posted on Route 53 to alert drivers on the highway to the dangerous crossing.
Walsh said he has been coordinating an effort this summer among local officials to alert the Illinois Department of Transportation to the problem. After the Sept. 13 fatal accident, he said: “I called IDOT that morning. I said, ‘We just had a fatality. You know what’s happening. We need to get a traffic light out there.’ ”
But state transportation officials require a traffic study before determining whether a red light is needed. Walsh said it will take months to do the study, and he doesn’t expect to hear the results until February.