‘Malfunction junction’ is gone, but I-75 crashes are rising in downtown Dayton

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Crash shuts down I-75 South at Stanley Avenue in Dayton

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

State officials attribute the increase to higher traffic volumes, texting.

“Malfunction junction” is gone, but I-75 in Dayton still can be dangerous for motorists.

Auto crashes on a three-mile stretch of I-75 in the city increased 106 percent between 2014 and 2017, and they could climb even higher this year, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol data.

State officials say traffic volumes have surged on the highway, leading to more crashes.

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Transportation experts also said motorists increasingly are taking part in dangerous behavior like texting while driving.

“While wet roads are certainly a hazard, distracted driving continues to be the No. 1 cause of crashes,” said Kara Hitchens, senior specialist of public and government affairs for AAA Miami Valley & Northwest Ohio.

Major rebuild

More than a decade ago, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) identified I-75 in Dayton as one of the worst sites in the state for crashes and congestion.

The stretch of highway used to have an abrupt curve at Ohio 4 that many people called “malfunction junction.”

Beginning in 2007, the I-75 modernization project rebuilt the highway to eliminate dangerous on and off ramps and the sharp curve in the road, officials said.

The Ohio 4 and U.S. 35 interchange ramps were replaced as part of a $306 million project that reconstructed a dozen bridges, eliminated left lane entrances and exits and created three continuous lanes.

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The project brought about four miles of urban freeway in downtown Dayton up to modern design standards and provided additional capacity, with the addition of a continuous third through lane, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Other improvements included better spacing between interchanges and a reduction in the number of lane changes.

The project, which was completed in September 2016, gave I-75 more safety features and eliminated left-hand on and off ramps that required a lot more merging and lane-switching, said Mandi Dillon, spokeswoman for ODOT District 7.

“Traffic flow is definitely better and it is safer than it was,” she said.

More crashes

Still, the number of crashes on a large portion of the reconstructed highway has been rising since 2014.

That year, 114 accidents were recorded on a stretch roughly between Edwin C. Moses Boulevard and Stanley Avenue, according to the highway patrol data. It’s risen steadily ever since. In 2017, the patrol logged 235 crashes on that stretch, an increase of 106 percent from three years earlier.

This year, already there have been more than 200 crashes, including 63 involving injuries. Since 2016, three of the crashes have been fatal.

Matt Bruning, press secretary for ODOT, points out crashes are up statewide — not just in Dayton.

He attributed the increase primarily to growing traffic volumes.

ODOT’s traffic count for I-75 at Stanley Avenue was 89,580 vehicles per day in 2009. By last year, the average daily count for that location had climbed to 121,377 vehicles per day.

Texting a problem

Hitchens said it is up to drivers to follow traffic laws and avoid speeding and distractions, particularly when the roads are wet and icy.

Bruning too said Ohio motorists increasingly are engaging in texting and driving, which has led to an increase in what he called fixed-object crashes.

“That’s when people are hitting something,” he said, “which is usually (caused by a) distraction.”

Crash data

A $306 million modernization project rebuilt I-75 through Dayton and got rid of “malfunction junction,” but crashes are up dramatically in that area since 2014.

2014: 114

2015: 140

2016: 160

2017: 235

Source: Ohio State Highway Patrol

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