Malfunction Junction tops county's list for most traffic accidents in 2016
Which intersections in Columbia and Richland County had the highest numbers of collisions last year?
The answers are hardly surprising for law enforcement officials examining state numbers. Broad River Road and Interstate 20 had the highest number of collisions in the county in 2016, at 142. And Assembly Street and Elmwood Avenue led the way in the city of Columbia, with 50 crashes.
The list might not surprise motorists, either.
The State newspaper reviewed numbers for crashes investigated by the Columbia Police Department and the S.C. Highway Patrol, which investigates collisions outside the jurisdiction of local police agencies.
The numbers were preliminary data from 2016 provided by the S.C. Department of Public Safety’s Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs. All the collisions happened within a tenth of a mile of the selected intersection.
‘Thousands of people trying to get home’
The interstate commuters among us know the traffic to the northwest and northeast of Columbia is the thickest, fastest and, it seems, the most problematic.
After I-20 and Broad River Road, the next highest number of crashes was in St. Andrews at the I-20 and I-26 interchange – commonly referred to as “Malfunction Junction” – which reported 84 crashes in 2016, according to state data.
Then came Broad River Road and I-26, with 78 crashes, followed by a shift to Northeast Richland – Killian Road and I-77, with 75 crashes. Two Notch Road and Sparkleberry Lane rounded out those five with 64 collisions.
The first three intersections are the main concerns for troopers, according to Lance Cpl. David Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol, who said a majority of the wrecks come during the morning and evening rush hours.
Malfunction Junction alone sees more than 133,000 cars travel through daily, and Broad River Road feeds around 1,200 cars per hour onto I-26 during the morning rush hour, according to an April 2016 study by the Department of Transportation.
“There’s thousands of people trying to get home,” Jones said. “As a trooper working either Lexington or Richland counties ... we all know that in the afternoon, a trooper is going to be somewhere near the area of I-20 and Broad River.”
‘Always a traffic jam’
Restaurants, gas stations, motels and other businesses line both sides of Broad River Road leading to I-20.
Employees at the Waffle House on Broad River Road and I-20 say that speeding and tailgating are common on Broad River Road.
At Sherwin Williams Paints, manager Jimmy Crosby said employees frequently hear crashes involving cars turning onto Broad River Road.
“It seems like people pulling out of that residential area just try to get out in busy traffic and we’ll hear a ‘Boom!’ ” he said. “Getting in and out of here is always a traffic jam.”
Troopers chalk up many of these collisions to inattentive or distracted drivers, speed or unsafe following distances.
“We see a lot of these rear-end collisions,” Jones said. “The first thing (victims) say is: ‘The car in front of me stopped. I slammed on brakes, and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, the person behind me was looking down.’ We can only assume at that point they were probably distracted or on their phone.”
‘Anything on Elmwood is a concern’
In town, Assembly and Elmwood saw 50 collisions in 2016, according to state data.
Not far behind that is Taylor Street (S.C. 12) and Huger Street, where the highway splits into two one-way streets – Hampton and Taylor streets. Around those intersections, police handled 49 collisions last year.
Devine Street at Garners Ferry Road and Rosewood Drive saw 45 collisions. Main Street and Elmwood saw 38 collisions, while 37 were reported at Gervais and Huger.
“Historically, anything on Elmwood is a concern for us because of the amount of traffic coming in,” said Sgt. Robert Uhall of the Columbia Police Department’s traffic unit. More commuters seem to come into town on S.C. 277 and cut down Elmwood to pick up Huger and cross the river, Uhall said.
At No Name Deli, at Elmwood and Marion Street, manager Bryant Wall was not surprised that Elmwood appears twice in the city’s top five intersections for crashes. What was surprising, he said, are the numbers.
“That seems low,” he said of the 38 reported crashes at Main and Elmwood. Restaurant employees went outside to help people involved in a recent crash just outside the business.
Wall said employees park at a church on the other side of Elmwood and walk across to the restaurant.
“People drive very carelessly though here,” Wall said. “Walking across the street – that’s the most dangerous part of the job for us.”
Denzel Larry sees fender-benders regularly from his store, The Shoe Gods, near Elmwood and Assembly. He said he often sees cars driving over or making U-turns across Elmwood’s raised concrete medians.
“If they don’t want (to go to the next intersection) to go around, they’ll come straight across the median,” he said.
Red lights, pedestrians, staying in your lane
Crashes downtown tend to involve lower speeds, but crashes on the outskirts of the city typically happen in higher speed zones, Uhall said.
Officers are putting more focus on Garners Ferry Road, which includes the intersection with Devine, Rosewood and Wildcat.
“If we can get people’s attention going into Columbia on the outskirts of these main thoroughfares, hopefully by the time they get downtown, they’re seeing the police presence,” Uhall said.
Catherine Baker, 52, lives in Rosewood, but goes shopping at Target on Garners Ferry Road. She doesn’t like traveling in the area “because too many people are in a big hurry.”
“I just witnessed someone do a U-turn (on Garners Ferry) and almost stop traffic,” she said Tuesday. “It’s pretty dangerous. Like, who does that?”
Stephen Sutusky, 35, is a lifelong resident of Columbia and goes through the Garners Ferry/Devine/Rosewood intersection twice a day.
“People fly down the hill, going into town at crazy rates,” he said.
In addition to distracted driving and following too closely, Uhall said crashes at city intersections also involve drivers running red lights or not maintaining their lane while turning.
“The people in the far right lane won’t stay in that far right lane (as they turn),” he said. “They feel just because they passed through part of the lane that it’s OK.”
Pedestrians are another contributing factor in crashes at city intersections, Uhall said. Main Street and Elmwood Avenue saw the lone fatality at these 10 intersections last year: A pedestrian was fatally struck by a cement truck in March 2016, according to previous reports.
Last year, Columbia police handled 18 traffic fatalities. As of Thursday, there have been three, Uhall said.
Most dangerous intersections in Columbia
Where should you be extra wary when driving? Start with these intersections that saw the most accidents in 2016:
INSIDE CITY LIMITS
1. Assembly Street and Elmwood Avenue: 50 collisions, 10 with injuries
2. Taylor Street and Huger Street: 49 collisions, nine with injuries
3. Devine Street/Garners Ferry Road and Rosewood Drive: 45 collisions, 10 with injuries
4. Main Street and Elmwood Avenue: 38 collisions, four with injuries, one fatal
5. Gervais Street and Huger Street: 37 collisions, nine with injuries
Investigated by Columbia Police Department
JUST OUTSIDE COLUMBIA
1. I-20 and Broad River Road: 142 collisions, 26 with injuries
2. I-20 and I-26: 84 collisions, 15 with injuries
3. I-26 and Broad River Road: 78 collisions, nine with injuries
4. Killian Road and I-77: 75 collisions, 10 with injuries
5. Two Notch Road and Sparkleberry Lane: 64 collisions, eight with injuries
Investigated by S.C. Highway Patrol
SOURCE FOR ALL: S.C. Department of Public Safety