In a word: no

Dec. 4, 2017

The J-turn fails in Indiana as states continue to brainstorm

What is the answer for 100 across?

My grandmother, affectionately called “Mommy D,” finds it in the newspaper just about every day. For as long as I can remember, she has always done the daily crossword puzzle, and just about every time I see her nibbling on her pen for the right word carrying the right amount of letters she always blurts out the same anecdote, “You know why my mind is still sharp? Because I do crossword puzzles.” Yes, my Mommy D, whose roots are wrapped around one of the most remarkable achievements in North American history (she had a relative on the Mayflower), has a brain destined for the Smithsonian. Her life spanned 100 years in mid-November, and the intellectual waves are still churning.

I do not often get back to the state of Michigan (I was born in Kalamazoo and still have loads of relatives there), but when I do I drive my car like I just received my learner’s permit. The rules of the road are different in the land of lakes (sorry, Minnesota), which has non-traditional U-turns, flashing yellow arrows and other things that are not immediately coming to mind during this writing (I hate crosswords). Michigan is not the only state which has customized, but usually once a year I am a victim of it.

Signature traffic designs appear to be on the rise across the U.S. If you remember in my November editorial, the Colorado DOT decided to turn a shoulder into a lane on I-225 while also blocking access to southbound I-25. I thought the idea was desperate, but there is a chance it will work. Right before my Mommy D became a centenarian, Indiana’s J-turn concept kicked the bucket. What is a J-turn? In a nutshell, it is a U-turn right off an intersection. So if you were making a right-turn onto a local road you would have to almost immediately cross over into the inside lane so you can make the U maneuver. The Indiana Department of Transportation had six planned before the travelling public created such an uproar the design was completely abandoned. One of the J’s was going to set up shop on 600 East and Logansport Road in Logansport, Ind. There was a total of 85 crashes in the span of seven years at both locations. Residents were concerned the J-turns would make it difficult for farm and other large vehicles to navigate the U-turn, resulting in more accidents. I also believe this would create an increase in traffic congestion around these intersections. Some suggested realigning the intersections to 90° angles as a better solution. INDOT does have a success story with the J-turn: One was installed at U.S. 41 and S.R. 114 in 2015, and no accidents have been reported.

Officials in Ann Arbor, Mich., not far from Mommy D’s 100th celebration, are moving forward with a flex route system on U.S. 23, which will convert the shoulder into an extra lane during the morning and evening rush hour. This last resort rationale further proves the point I was trying to make on this page in November: With budgets continuing to dry out, those at the state and local level have to work more within their means.

Technology, like virtual reality, could make moves like these more plausible. Maybe if CDOT showed the public through virtual reality that closing access to southbound I-25 would not affect local traffic, nerves would settle. Virtual reality could have shown engineers the flaw in J-turns before it got serious. It’s time this 3-D, 360° dimension takes hold. I’m down.

About The Author: Wilson is editorial director of Roads & Bridges.

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