A Monticello Sunday School Class discussion about an automobile accident that took the life of a young Alabama woman and a subsequent highway study requested by Arkansas Highway Commissioner Robert S. Moore, Jr., of Arkansas City, and AHTD Director Scott Bennett have resulted in plans to make major improvements to a section of U.S. 278 in Drew County known as “Dead Man’s Curve.”
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department announced plans today (December 2) to improve the highway section which is located about two miles east of Monticello. The section of highway includes two sharp curves that have played a significant role in many auto accidents over the years, including a number of fatal accidents.
A fatal accident in August brought additional attention to the area.
Carly Avery was traveling east on U.S. 278 at 6:20 a.m. on August 1 when she lost control of her car as she attempted to negotiate the curve on the wet highway. Her vehicle went into the westbound lane where it was struck by a 2014 Freightliner.
Avery was a civil engineering student at Mississippi State University working a summer internship at the Clearwater paper mill near Arkansas City. She was temporarily residing in Monticello.
The 21-year-old woman’s death prompted a letter to State Highway Commissioner Robert Moore and State Highway and Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett asking that the department take all necessary actions to “take out ‘Dead Man’s Curve’” in U.S. 278 east of Monticello.
The letter, written under the First United Methodist Church letterhead, was signed by 52 Monticello residents and was the result of an August 3 discussion in church’s Adult Sunday School Class whose members were touched by the automobile accident that took the young woman’s life.
Moore and Bennett subsequently requested a study to evaluate the types of problems occurring and to determine what actions could be taken to enhance safety in the area. The study found that the area has an overall crash rate higher than the statewide average for similar roads, but the fatality and serious injury crash rate was slightly below the statewide average, according to a news release announcing the major improvement plan.
“The most telling thing we learned from the study is that wet pavement crashes occurred at a rate over three times higher than the statewide average,” Bennett said.
Even prior to the completion of the study, larger “Sharp Curve Ahead” signs were installed at the westernmost curve. Rumble bars have also been added across the travel lanes at the sign locations to further alert motorists of the curves ahead and the need to adjust their speed accordingly.
Also as an interim measure, work to remove and replace the top two inches of asphalt from the highway is underway this week. The work will be complete by Friday, December 5, weather permitting. The new driving surface and stripes will increase traction and visibility through the area.
Based on the study findings, the Arkansas Highway Commission authorized a safety project for 2015 (referred to as Phase One in the study) to install a ‘High Friction Surface Treatment’ through the westernmost curve of the studied area.
“The HFST is a relatively new process that has yielded good results in reducing the number of wet pavement crashes in the areas where it’s been installed,” Bennett said. “Because of temperature restrictions for applying the treatment, the work cannot begin until next spring. We believe the changes that have already been implemented on this highway, combined with the HFST, will greatly enhance safety in the area in a relatively short period of time.”
The safety study also identified this section of Highway 278 as an area where the installation of center and edge line rumble strips would be beneficial. A project to install rumble strips on several highways in south Arkansas, including this section of Highway 278, will begin in the Spring of 2015.
The study also recommended realigning the curves in the future (Phase Two in the study). “Realignment of the curves is not something that can be accomplished in a short period of time,” Bennett explained. “We must go through the detailed federal environmental studies, acquire the necessary additional right of way, and relocate utilities to accommodate the work. Therefore, no time-frame has been established for the Phase Two work. We will monitor the impacts of the changes made, including the Phase One work, and schedule the additional improvements as funds and conditions warrant.”