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MDOT's focus on safety continued in 2021

Contact: Dan Weingarten, MDOT Office of Communications, 906-250-4809 Agency: Transportation

Fast facts: - Safety is the top concern at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). - MDOT safety initiatives across the Upper Peninsula are part of a larger Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) effort. - MDOT's Superior Region is working on many fronts to improve road safety, including access management, roadside delineators, and mumble strips.

ESCANABA, Mich. - Despite another year of increasing traffic fatalities and injuries around the country, 2021 saw the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) make strides toward increasing safety on roads in the Upper Peninsula.

MDOT safety projects are part of a larger Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) effort. Since 2010, MDOT has collaborated statewide with law enforcement officials and first responders to promote this important national highway safety strategy, including posting year-to-date fatality totals on roadside dynamic message signs. These efforts are raising awareness of traffic safety challenges in Michigan.

It's an effort that extends well beyond education. MDOT's Superior Region, which encompasses the entire U.P., has addressed safety concerns with specific road projects and system-wide improvements.

"Safety is the top priority at MDOT and we continue to integrate safety features into the design and planning of upcoming projects," said Jason DeGrand, region operations engineer. "This year, access management efforts on road projects around the U.P. helped improve safety."

As part of projects in Manistique, Wakefield and Munising, access management efforts closed or consolidated dozens of driveways and created intersection improvements. Reducing the number of access points along a highway has many safety benefits. It cuts the number of conflict points (spots where vehicles are entering and exiting the flow of traffic), which reduces the potential for crashes.

"We regularly incorporate access management principles into the designs of our urban and suburban projects," explained Justin Junttila, region traffic and safety engineer with MDOT. "Limiting access reduces the number of conflict points, the locations where vehicle paths merge or cross, thereby reducing the crash potential."

In addition to reducing potential for angle, or "T-bone," crashes at driveways, Junttila explains that access management lowers the potential for rear-end crashes because it lessens slowing and stopping of vehicles.

"On roadway sections with multiple lanes, there is lowered potential for sideswipe crashes involving vehicles that are changing lanes when left-turning traffic is stopped in their lane." Junttila said. "Access management results in better traffic progression due to less slowing and stopping of vehicles, both in two-lane, two-way sections, and three-lane sections with a shared center left-turn lane."

Other TZD efforts over the past year have great potential for crash reduction and increased safety:

  • MDOT installed delineators on M-117 in Mackinac County from US-2 to the Luce County line. These 4-foot-high reflectors are a low-cost, systemic safety improvement to help prevent lane departure crashes, the most common type of fatal crashes in the U.P. 
  • Another road feature that can help reduce lane departures, mumble strips, were installed on about 350 miles of state highway around the U.P. this construction season. Until recently, MDOT only used rumble strips on wider shoulders. Mumble strips, pioneered in Minnesota and tested in previous years on several stretches of highway in the U.P., are variable-depth rumble strips that can be used on narrower asphalt shoulders (less than 6 feet). They also create less noise outside of the vehicle while alerting the driver.

The statewide TZD safety campaign parallels a national strategy on highway safety. While travel dropped nationally during 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, traffic crash deaths increased last year. Preliminary numbers show fatal crashes increased again in Michigan in 2021, up by about 10 percent, mirroring the disturbing national trend.

In Michigan, as of Dec. 7, 1,067 people had died on roadways in 2021, an increase of 101 compared to the same time in 2020. In addition, 5,379 were seriously injured.

"This year's trend is concerning, but it shows how important it is to continue to push toward zero deaths." said Junttila. "MDOT will continue to work on specific projects and system-wide efforts to build a safer transportation network for all users."

Next year, among other safety initiatives, MDOT plans to add more capabilities to roadside environmental sensor stations. This can increase safety by helping MDOT prioritize winter maintenance activities and by alerting drivers to weather conditions along their planned routes. It's all designed to move the U.P. toward zero deaths.

To learn more about the national strategy, go to www.towardzerodeaths.org. For more information on the state campaign, visit MDOT's website at www.Michigan.gov/ZeroDeaths.