By Conrad Dudderar
A roundabout. J-turns. A single-point urban interchange. A zipper-merge.
These are prime examples of engineering innovations that Oklahoma’s traffic engineers are using to make state roadways safer for travel.
As part of a year-long campaign on driver safety, state transportation officials are focusing this month on such innovations.
The “Make Safety Stick: Everybody Click” awareness effort is a reminder that highway safety can never take a back seat.
This Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) campaign focuses on all aspects of driver safety – with seat belts as the overarching theme.
Canadian County is among central Oklahoma counties that, in the past, have been considered rural.
Canadian County is now “in the urban area” – due largely to its remarkable growth, state transportation department spokeswoman Terri Angier said.
“When there are fewer cars, the highways can be a lot more forgiving,” Angier said. “The growth of Canadian County is overwhelming. In the past, counties like Canadian County would have stop signs in one direction when a highway and a county road met.
“Traffic on the highway didn’t stop, but it did on the county road. As those areas become more urbanized, traffic volume increases. That is really something to pay attention to because the number of incidents going through those intersections are higher.”
Case in point is the State Highway 66/Banner Road intersection just west of Yukon.
After a fatal crash in November 2019, ODOT made the intersection a four-way stop; previously only Banner Road traffic was required to stop.
ODOT is now considering a permanent upgrade at that SH-66/Banner Road intersection – site of dozens of serious traffic collisions including several deadly crashes in recent decades.
Three options are being considered: Single-lane roundabout, all-way stop control and signalized intersection.
Drivers slow down as they approach an intersection with a roundabout, but don’t come to a complete stop.
An upcoming ODOT project at US-81/SH-66 in El Reno will feature a new roundabout.
As with Canadian County, Pottawatomie, Logan and Cleveland counties are seeing growth.
So, state transportation officials must investigate ways to improve places where state highways connect with county roads.
“That has to do with that ‘rural’ intersection now becoming ‘urban’, with a high volume of traffic,” Angier said.
OTHER KEY INNOVATIONS
In February, ODOT is focusing attention on engineering innovations during the “Make Safety Stick: Everybody Click” awareness effort.
One such innovation – a first for Oklahoma – will be a “zipper merge” to debut this spring in a work zone on Interstate 35 near Pauls Valley.
This design is intended to help motorists safely merge when a roadway is narrowed from two lanes to one lane, usually around a construction project.
“The zipper merge is being used in many higher-volume traffic states very successfully,” Angier said. “You really wait later to merge, almost to the point you come together at the project. You allow each other to merge and move on.
“We as Oklahomans will have to get used to a new concept of not merging too quickly. The idea is to use the available lanes, all the way to the end, to not back up traffic behind you.”
Canadian County motorists are well familiar with another innovation implemented in 2014. That year, a new “single-point” urban interchange opened at I-40 and Morgan Road – which has truck stops on all four corners.
“That is a perfect example of how we can use the same footprint of an interchange there the truck traffic volumes are very high,” Angier said, “and still get them across to those truck stops and back on the road safely.”
Yet another engineering innovation are rumble strips on center lines and edge lines, which alert drivers who drift out of their traffic lanes.
One of ODOT’s early highway safety innovations, started about 17 years ago, was installation of cable barriers on state roadways that have greatly reduced “crossover” accidents.
“We’re coming up with lots of different solutions of how we can design highways and design traffic patterns to help drivers,” Angier said. “But we have to have the public’s help and partnership so they can be effective.”