John Howell editorial 9/9/2014

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Plans under way to eliminate Hwy. 6 ‘conflict points’

A big MDOT truck with impressive-looking specialty equipment spent some time last week on the Highway 6 railway overpass, arousing curiosity among motorists, my co-worker among them, whom flagmen directed through one lane of bridge traffic. 

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It was a bridge inspection crew, MDOT District Three Engineer Mitch Turner assured me, performing a routine inspection on the structure. The truck’s equipment includes appendages that carry workers under bridge where they look for signs of rust, decay and other problems.

“They’re somewhere in the 17 counties every day, testing,” Turner said.

At the Highway 6 railway overpass, they are also trying to determine how traffic on Highway 6 and Highway 35 are going to be rerouted when the overpass is finally replaced with the project that will someday widen Highway 6 between Batesville and Clarksdale.

Meanwhile, Turner said, a more immediate project with partial funding already in place will try to make Highway 6 from Highway 51 to I-55 safer for motorists.

Around 1984 — as the construction of four lanes from Oxford to Batesville was completed, I recall writing about that fifth lane in the middle, the turn lane. Except I called it the “Giddy-Up”  lane — the strip you drive into and use to build up your speed prior to entering the flow of traffic.

With the phenomenal increase that we’ve seen in traffic volume on Highway 6 during the last 30 years, that Giddy-Up lane has become problematic.

Safety funding is in place, Turner told me, that will be “looking at all the access points for the different businesses,” he said.

Turner said that he expects construction of raised medians in much of what is now the Giddy-Up lane “that does away with all those what are called ‘conflict points.’”

If you have attempted to enter Highway 6 from East Oaks Shopping Center, attempting to drive west, and you have encountered a driver leaving Wendy’s who at the same time is attempting to head east, then you know about conflict points. Congratulations if you have avoided a crash. Many have not.

And so on, up and down Highway 6 from Woodland Drive to Highway 51 drivers often enter conflict points as they attempt to enter or exit businesses. It ain’t easy avoiding a crash when you’re looking up, down and crossways as you drive into that maelstrom.

The project that Turner expects engineers to design will eliminate those conflict points. 

“We really feel like we can achieve a whole lot better crash rating,” he said. 

Of course, there will be skeptics and soreheads, but “typically a project like this is well received,” Turner said, after drivers have had a chance to become accustomed to driving it.

Fewer crashes? Reduced odds of head-on collision? Life in the Giddy-Up lane will never be the same.

Thank goodness.