Motorists who drive across the new Worthsville Road interchange every day are slowing down and holding the steering wheel a little bit tighter.
As you approach the bridge over Interstate 65, the stoplight at the diverging diamond intersection points your vehicle in the direction of the opposite side of the road. That’s part of the design of the interchange so motorists getting onto the interstate don’t need to turn left and cross oncoming traffic.
But between the overpass bridge and the traffic signals on Worthsville Road, a guardrail meant to keep vehicles from going off the bridge ends, and that has motorists concerned. With winter coming, they worry that a vehicle could slide on ice or snow, and that open space leaves enough room for a vehicle to go off the road and down the embankment toward the interstate.
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“Drive over it, you can see where the open space is. If you hydroplane on water, slide on black ice or across the snow, you would slide right off the road,” Greenwood resident Mike McFarland said. “I drive on the interchange every day, and it stuck out as a safety issue. If your car slides, you’re going down that hill.”
But sliding down the embankment, rather than hitting a guardrail, is actually part of the design, according to Adam Burns, a project manager at Crawford, Murphy & Tilly, the company that designed the Worthsville Road interchange.
The diverging diamond was proposed over a traditional interchange because it was safer, eliminating left turns that cross oncoming traffic. Ending the guardrail at the overpass bridge is safer because it allows space for a vehicle to slide down the embankment instead of hitting the guardrail, he said.
That is safer for the driver and passengers and wouldn’t total a vehicle, Burns said.
When deciding whether to install a guardrail, design firms study the incline of the hillside of the bridge to determine the safest way to stop a vehicle: a guardrail or allowing the vehicle to slide off the road, Burns said.
In this case, the hillside of the bridge isn’t very steep, so it allows the vehicle to roll down safely and stop well before it got to I-65, Burns said.
“This was an instance where it was studied and studied, and we found out it’s safer,” Burns said. “People should feel very safe. Sliding down the embankment is much safer than hitting something at 30 mph.”
Winter weather, such as snow, ice and even freezing rain, hasn’t hit, but motorists are concerned for when it does.
About 5 a.m. each day, Greenwood resident Jay Perkinson notices the space where no guardrail is in place as he heads to work. He said his concerns are the speed people drive on the interchange now and how ice and snow will create dangerous conditions.
Perkinson said he would rather hit a guardrail than slide down the embankment toward I-65.
“That’s what insurance is for. I’m not worried about the damage a guardrail would cause my car,” Perkinson said. “The speed limit is 30 mph — if someone does that with snow or ice, they’ll shoot right off the edge and down the embankment.”