Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Accident prone?

I wouldn't know if 614 accidents in two years is a high number on a heavily-traveled stretch of roadway like the the Tip O'Neill Tunnel, which carries 1.5-miles of I-93 beneath downtown Boston. It seems to be a lot, but then again, it's fewer than one accident among the more than 100,000 cars that pass through each day.

Vincent Zarrilli, a civic activist, recently gathered information comparing the O'Neill Tunnel smash-ups with those of the Sumner and Callahan tunnels, which totaled 28 accidents in the same period. Yikes, that is a huge difference. However, it occurs to me that there is less traffic in those tunnels, there are two lanes through each (while the O'Neill Tunnel has three or four), there is no (legal) lane changing allowed, the tunnels are shorter (each is about a mile long) and, on one side, drivers have to stop or slow down to pay tolls (and I think that drivers entering either tunnel need to slow down because of the configuration of the access points to the tunnels).

But here's my problem: When Zarrilli presented information on the number of accidents to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which administers all three of the tunnels, officials seemed shocked:
The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has launched an evaluation of the accident data and the geometry of the highway and tunnel," authority chief of staff Stephen Collins wrote in a July 20 letter to Zarrilli. "This engineering evaluation includes an assessment of the pavement condition, horizontal and vertical curvature, sight distances, signage, lighting, and all engineering aspects of the roadway and tunnel," Collins wrote.
Is there no one at the Pike who should be monitoring such things? Or, at least, someone who would have noticed if this is a huge discrepancy? I would understand a response that said, "Due to a number of logistical issues and the sheer number of vehicles, this is the number of accidents we'd expect," or a response that said, "We're aware of the high number of accidents and have been investigating the matter." What I don't want to hear is, "No kidding! Wow, we'll have to look at that."

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