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New warning lights use cutting-edge technology

Monday, October 10, 2005

New warning lights at the intersection of Highways 61-80.
MATTHEWS - Nearly everyone who regularly drives through the Highways 61

-80 intersection at Matthews has a story about the near misses, the collisions and, occasionally, the fatal wrecks they have observed there.

Four new warning lights placed by the Missouri Department of Transportation are designed to make that intersection safer.

Randy Grady, inspector for the warning light placement at the Matthews, explained the lights erected in September by MoDOT are cutting-edge technology for Southeast Missouri's District 10. The lights are the first solar-

powered warning lights placed at an intersection in the district.

While the technology is utilized elsewhere by the MoDOT in the state and in the District at school locations, District 10 is now adopting the use in Southeast Missouri.

The initial installation costs are higher than the traditional electric-operated warning lights, Grady said. However, because there is no electrical bill for their operation, he estimated the lights can pay for themselves in two to three years.

According to the MoDOT official, the solar panels store enough energy for the lights to work for 40 days. There is a battery back-up unit should the solar power fail. "But there is never total darkness for a month so it seldom ever uses the battery," said Grady.

Since the installation, Grady said the lights have worked well. Other similar lighting projects are now in the planning stages. "It is still experimental," said Grady. "We want to see how long they last."

Matthews Mayor Gene Curtis calls the new lights a welcomed sight and noted he has already received several favorable comments from residents.

"We are pleased we got these lights," said Curtis. "I've seen some accidents there. It is a dangerous intersection."

According to Curtis, the Missouri State Highway Patrol verified concerns about the danger. He credits the Patrol's 10-year-review with convincing MoDOT to place the warning lights.

"They have responded very well to our request," said Curtis about MoDOT, which notified the city by a flyer several months ago of the intended placement of the lights at the intersection.

Missouri Highway Patrol Lt. James McNiell presented the 10-year traffic analysis to the Matthews Board. While there weren't as many fatal accidents at the intersection as some believed, the traffic study showed a considerable number of accidents, most involving at least two cars, he said.

"Anytime there are multiple vehicles that increases the chances of someone being killed," said McNiell. And with the city extending the city limits to the Interstate 55 interchange, increased traffic was also a concern.

"There is a lot of traffic through there on Highway 61. We are hoping the lights will improve the situation," said McNiell.

According to the Statewide Traffic Accident Reporting System, since 1995 there have been no fatal accidents at the intersection, although McNiell noted the intersection has been the location of fatal accidents in previous years. Statistics showed there were 24 accidents involving property damage (of one or more vehicles), 18 accidents with personal injuries (a total of 36 persons) with 42 accidents reported at the intersection overall in the past 10 years.

McNiell went onto caution that drivers must bear the responsibility of avoiding accidents. He pointed out it is illegal to pass in an intersection and turns should be made with care.

And like the new blinking lights, the Patrol officer warned: "We ask people to use caution."