Dallas’ new signature Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is becoming known for more than its striking visual beauty. Here’s a photo from its dedication two years ago. But since then, it has also become a continual site for car and truck accidents. The cause of the wrecks may not be drivers staring at the distinctive design of the $182 million bridge by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, but the confusing way the traffic lanes are designed.
The bridge connects Woodall Rogers Freeway through downtown Dallas to Singleton Boulevard in west Dallas. It’s a handy short-cut to Interstate 30 West if you’re driving to Arlington or Fort Worth and want to avoid the gnarly interchange by the Hyatt Hotel. The stunning bridge is known for its 40-story center-support arch that can be seen from miles away. However, the bridge is also designed to transition far too quickly from the highway to the surface street, often without drivers realizing it until it is too late.
The Texas Department of Transportation found that, since the bridge was opened, there have at least 50 car and truck accidents at the intersection of Singleton and North Beckley Avenue on the west end of the bridge. At least 25 people may have been injured. Dozens more car accidents have taken place but have gone unreported since their damage did not exceed the state’s requirement for police officers writing accident reports.
One driver involved in a car accident claimed that he “never saw that guy coming” as he tried to make a left turn onto North Beckley. He ended up slamming into the other car and was deemed to be at fault by the police, but he claimed that the intersection was confusing to anyone who has not driven on the bridge at least a few times.
Dallas officials say they were first alerted to the problem in January 2014 after someone complained to the city. They found that in just one year, of the 27 crashes at the intersection, 22 were caused by drivers making that left turn.
Once city officials claim they were notified, they finally changed the traffic lights so that drivers leaving the bridge are only allowed to turn left with a protected green arrow. That seems to have helped the problem, as there have not been any other left turn crashes reported in that section.
Note that the bridge opening was initially delayed when Dallas police found that the ramps and lanes were confusing to drivers. You would have thought that our transportation safety planners could have anticipated that having a sudden, unprotected turn as drivers drive down a hill at 55 mph or more and have to cross over three lanes of uncoming traffic on their way to I-30 would be a problem, wouldn’t you?
This is the first of three bridges that Calatrava is designing to span the Trinity River. Let’s hope that Dallas transportation officials properly design the traffic lights and lanes for the next two ones so that a lot of people aren’t injured before they fix the problem.
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