Shards of glass and chunks of metal are always a clear sign that one of the busiest intersections in Greenwood was the site of yet another accident.
The intersection of Smith Valley Road and State Road 135 has been the No. 1 site for accidents in Greenwood for at least two years straight. Last year, police were called to 51 accidents there, and the year before, 61 — making the average about one crash per week.
Ron Moore, who lives in the Center Grove area, on average drives through the intersection twice a day to go shopping or head to Indianapolis. And about every two weeks there’s wreckage from a crash for him to dodge, he said.
More than 18,000 vehicles pass through the intersection during morning and evening rush hours, according to a 2010 traffic count. One city official thinks that count may be low and wonders if the Center Grove-area intersection gets even more traffic than what the study showed was the busiest intersection — County Line Road and Emerson Avenue, where more than 20,000 vehicles pass through in the morning and evening.
Now, with a new Walmart store planned to open near the intersection, motorists worry about more accidents happening and more traffic backing up for blocks at the stoplights. The store, to be built about a quarter-mile southwest of the intersection, was supposed to be built and opened by fall and now will open in 2015, according to a statement from Wal-Mart Stores.
A traffic study has shown that an estimated 2,700 more vehicles will come through the area once the store is built. And motorists are already familiar with the backups that happen near the intersection of County Line Road and Emerson Avenue, where another Walmart is located.
The city required the retailer to pay for road construction, including a new median on Smith Valley Road to prevent left turns and a right-turn lane to keep cars moving through the intersection. But motorists and residents don’t think those changes will do much.
“It’s going to get worse, bottom line. Dreadfully worse,” said Dennis Gamache, who lives nearby.
He drives through the intersection three or four times a week and regularly sees accidents, he said. Recently, a woman was using her cellphone and crashed right into the vehicle next to him, he said.
The accident counts likely will go up with the added traffic but not dramatically, city community development services director Mark Richards said.
The real fix that would solve the heavy congestion through the intersection would be widening the roads, Richards said. The city considered widening the 7-mile stretch of Smith Valley Road between Emerson Avenue and State Road 37, but the city can’t afford the roughly $40 million to $50 million project without federal funding, he said.
The city has applied for federal funding for the widening project two or three times in the past 10 years or so but without getting any money, he said.
Widening the roads wouldn’t necessarily reduce the number of crashes, because big intersections tend to have many accidents, he said, but it would help with congestion.
Wal-Mart is paying for a median and a right-turn lane to be built on Smith Valley Road near the intersection, and the road work should help reduce accidents by eliminating some of the left turns motorists make in front of oncoming traffic, Richards said.
At Smith Valley Road and State Road 135, many of the accidents are related to vehicles following each other too closely in heavy rush hour traffic, Greenwood police Sgt. Doug Roller said.
Nearly every time he drives through at rush hour, Moore said, he sees motorists who are turning right at red lights and cutting off the drivers turning left.
City officials have said they couldn’t prevent Walmart from building next to Home Depot because its planned big-box store is an appropriate use for the commercial land, and building one there isn’t against any city rules.
Gamache said he believes the city isn’t choosing what’s best for residents. The city is opting to earn more tax dollars rather than considering the additional traffic snarls and accidents the store’s shoppers would bring, he said. They should have focused on figuring out how to fix the traffic problems instead of helping the retailer move toward making them worse, he said.
“You’ve got more traffic period, and you’re probably going to have more people trying to take chances through that light,” he added. “We should be able to drive normally, not defensively.”