Enforcement increases at most dangerous crossings

By Ed Lowe
Post-Crescent staff writer

GRAND CHUTE — After years of chasing crashes at the same handful of congested intersections along and near U.S. 41, the Grand Chute Police Department is meeting matters head-on.

The department is targeting aggressive driving at the town's most crash-prone crossings, hoping the extra attention will make a dent in a growing problem that is straining the department's resources.

"Our resources can get stretched very thin on some days," Police Staff Sgt. Randy Reifsteck said. "We hope that by making a visual presence at these intersections, we will be able to reduce some of the aggressive driving behavior that contributes to a lot of these crashes."

Regular drivers at five of the busiest paved crossings in the Fox Cities may be noticing evidence of the effort already. Reifsteck said he has watched drivers hit their brakes suddenly, sometimes stopping in the middle of intersections, upon noticing a Grand Chute squad car observing from a spot nearby.

Reifsteck said the department is using teams of patrol units to catch and ticket violators at the respective intersections. The department also will use its patrol units to gather data that could prove persuasive to Department of Transportation traffic engineers.

The worst of the town's paved crossings, in terms of reported crashes, are clustered near U.S. 41 and the Fox River Mall.

Topping that list, with 145 crashes reported last year, is the zone at W. Wisconsin Avenue and U.S. 41. The worst-of-worst status of that interchange area comes as little surprise to Debra Vander Sanden, manager of the Kwik Trip Store at 3825 W. Wisconsin Ave., just east of the interchange ramps.

"We see a lot of the fender-benders happen right out at the end of the ramp," Vander Sanden said Tuesday, pointing to a line of cars stacked on the highway off-ramp beyond the store's chain-link fence.

Vander Sanden's shift ends before the worst of afternoon traffic, but still it's no picnic getting home, she said. "It's very dangerous getting across this four-lane road."

Lt. Jerome Martin said problems with the U.S. 41-Wisconsin Avenue interchange area may require months of ongoing attention by the department, as well as support from the State Patrol and possibly DOT traffic engineers.

"One of the things we're hoping we can do is reduce the speed limit there," Martin said. "You know, it's 45 (mph) all the way through there. One of our theories is that if we lower the speed limit, it will increase the reaction time for drivers and that will lead to some reduction to the call activity out there."

Reifsteck proposed the crash-reduction effort as a means to curb a key and worsening challenge to the department during its late afternoon and early evening. Of the 145 crashes reported at Wisconsin and U.S. 41 during 2007, 92, or nearly two-thirds, occurred between 2 and 10 p.m., Martin said.

Reifsteck said the department's challenges with traffic enforcement are expected to continue because likely a majority of the drivers involved in reported crashes are not residents of the Fox Cities.

"It's not that people from the rest of the state don't know how to drive as well, but the people of the Fox Valley are more prepared for what to expect at these intersections," Reifsteck said.

Crashes were more prevalent at each of the five targeted areas of intersections in 2007 than in the year before. Interim Police Chief James Lewis said his officers suspect the increases are the result of growing traffic volumes resulting from new development in town and surrounding areas.