Accident prone? Wreck stats stable, despite construction
NATCHEZ — Every year, approximately 700 drivers have a bad day in Natchez.
Some are asking for trouble — texting, driving drunk or not paying attention. Others are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Statistically speaking, it’s easy to pinpoint those wrong places.
Of the 2,547 vehicle accidents that have occurred in the city limits during the last three years and nine months, 397, or 15 percent of them, were at either the intersection of John R. Junkin and Seargent S. Prentiss drives or Seargent S. Prentiss and D’Evereux drives.
Those two intersections have also received the most attention from Mississippi Department of Transportation work crews in recent years as well.
MDOT is currently constructing its second major overhaul of intersections with work at the Seargent S. Prentiss/D’Evereux intersection, but even with new intersections designed to alleviate traffic woes, those two intersections are likely to remain the most accident-prone in the city, experts say.
The city and MDOT, Mayor Butch Brown said, are cognizant of the fact that those intersections will never be accident-free, but he said the two entities are trying to be proactive and eliminate hazards at the intersections.
In the nearly three years since the addition of a newly designed continuous flow intersection at Seargent S. Prentiss and John R. Junkin drives — just in front of Natchez Regional Medical Center — traffic accidents at that intersection have not significantly increased or decreased.
The continuous flow intersection went under construction in the April of 2008 and wrapped up in the spring of 2010.
In the two years prior to the start of construction, the intersection saw an average of 60 accidents a year.
According to statistics from the Natchez Police Department the number of accidents during and after construction stayed roughly the same:
- 2008 — 61 accidents; 15 with injuries
- 2009 — 54 accidents; 11 with injuries
- 2010 — 62 crashes; 11 with injuries
- 2012, first nine months — 41 crashes
Mississippi Department of Transportation District Engineer Albert White said he believes the intersection has served its purpose.
“I think it took a lot of getting used to by the traveling public, but I think it did make it a safer intersection and has accommodated increasing traffic volumes,” White said.
Brown, who was executive director of MDOT when the intersection opened, said the important thing to remember about the intersection is that its goal was to move vehicles faster through the multiple lanes of traffic.
“Certainly we want fewer crashes, but more importantly we want to move traffic through that intersection at a faster pace, and I’m sure we’re doing that,” Brown said.
MDOT is currently reconstructing another major intersection in Natchez at D’Evereux, Lynda Lee and D’Evereux drives.
Prior to the start of construction in August 2010, the intersection averaged 50 accidents annually.
Traffic accidents have increased somewhat since the construction of the fly-over began in August 2010.
The intersection saw 60 accidents in 2011, 18 of which had injuries. That is 13 more than the 47 accidents in 2010.
White said traffic accidents sometimes increase when such a large project is being constructed.
“It does happen, and because of multiple factors including that you’re changing traffic several times throughout construction,” White said.
Brown, who had a hand in the plans for the fly-over during is tenure at MDOT, said he agrees with White. The increase in accidents, Brown said, is more than likely because the construction is being done while traffic still flows through the intersection.
Construction of the flyover was scheduled to be complete this month, but was delayed at least another five months because part of the concrete did not set properly and scaffolding fell on part of the bridge deck.
Both White and Brown said once the flyover is complete, it will move a heavy volume of traffic off that intersection and in turn could decrease crashes there.
“It is going to reduce so much traffic at that intersection, especially at Lynda Lee,” White said. “Most of your traffic won’t come to a stop, it will be continually going through that intersection.”
Brown said once the fly-over is complete, that intersection will be the busiest and fastest in the city.
“It will move traffic faster and have less delays than any other intersection in the city, and I suspect crashes will decrease as a result,” Brown said.
Brown said he believes it is important for people to remember that the continuous flow intersection and the fly-over intersection will more than likely always have the most accidents, because those two intersections have the heaviest traffic volume.
Other accident-prone areas in the city include: Homochitto Street at Lower Woodville Road, John R. Junkin Drive at Canal Street and McNeely Road at D’Evereux Drive.
Natchez Police Chief Danny White said drivers have the most control when it comes to reducing the number of accidents.
Stay alert and slow down, he said, especially in areas of construction.
“Slow your speed, pay attention to the traffic signals and be alert,” he said. “Someone could pull out in front of you at anytime from anywhere. Slowing down, I think, would be the main thing to remember.”