Dallas' Signature Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Became Big Crash Zone in Months After Opening

City changes traffic signals to stem crashes

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    NEWSLETTERS

    An NBC 5 investigation reveals an alarming number of crashes at Dallas' signature Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in the two years after it opened. City engineers were unaware of the high number of crashes until a citizen complained to the city council. (Published Wednesday, May 21, 2014)

    A recent NBC 5 investigation reveals an alarming number of left-turn crashes caused by drivers exiting Dallas’ signature Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.

    City engineers said the high number of crashes initially escaped detection in reviews of high-crash intersections possibly because the bridge was new.

    NBC 5 Investigates obtained records from the Texas Department of Transportation that showed there have been more than 50 car crashes at the intersection of Singleton Boulevard and N. Beckley Avenue, just west of the bridge, since the bridge opened two years ago.  And that's just the crashes where someone was injured or property damage to a car exceeded $1,000.

    “It seems like a high rate,” said University of Texas at Arlington Traffic Engineer James Williams, who helped analyze the crash reports at the request of NBC 5.

    Williams felt like it was a lot of similar crashes for one intersection.  He quickly noticed that almost all of the crashes were caused by westbound drivers turning left onto Beckley from the bridge.

    “I never saw that guy coming,” said Arvid Brown, who was involved in a crash while trying to make a left turn.  Brown, who slammed into another car, was found at fault in the crash by police but said the intersection is confusing.  “If you haven’t driven it a few times, you’re not prepared for what’s going on.”

    NBC 5 Law Enforcement Expert Don Peritz said it may be the only place in Dallas where a freeway turns into a regular street, dumping fast moving freeway traffic into an intersection and forcing drivers to make quick decisions.

    “You’ve got a lot of people that are unfamiliar with the territory here all compounding the problem,” said Peritz.

    “I think the left turn is kind of confusing up there,” said John Sims, whose wife was involved in a crash at the intersection.

    Sims works in the neighborhood and said crashes are about as common as sightseers checking out the bridge.

    “The day my wife’s car got totaled there was a wreck in the evening up there,” said Sims.

    The city said it only became aware of the problem in January after someone complained to the city council. When city engineers looked at the reports, they couldn’t believe how many left-turn crashes were happening in one place.

    Records from the city show 27 crashes in just one year, 22 of which were caused by drivers making that left turn.

    City of Dallas Traffic Engineer Aro Majumdar said for some reason the problem did not show up in the city’s yearly look at locations with a high number of crashes, possibly because the intersection was so new. 

    By then, TxDOT crash stats show the crashes had injured at least nine people and another 16 more had possible injuries.

    Majumdar said it’s possible some of the injuries might have been prevented if they had known about the crashes earlier. 

    Once the city recognized the problem, they immediately changed the traffic lights so that drivers exiting the bridge can only turn left with a protected green arrow. Since that change in January, there have not been any other reported left turn crashes, city officials said.

    Still, the city wants more time to go by before declaring that the problem has been solved.

    “We’ll be monitoring the intersection; we’ll be monitoring the crashes,” said Majumdar.

    The city said it’s still a mystery why so many drivers were turning left in front of oncoming traffic, but that speed might be part of the explanation.

    Cars are supposed to slow to 35 mph ahead of the intersection, but some are still going freeway speeds.  The city is watching that as well and is running a speed survey at the bridge

    Another problem uncovered during NBC 5’s investigation, the left turn lane is a double turn lane that quickly merges into one lane causing drivers to cut in front of each other.

    That is another reason Brown said Dallas’s signature bridge is not his scene.

    “I avoid it. I avoid it. The bridge is beautiful to look at, it’s great to the skyline, but I’ll just sit back and watch and let others go,” said Brown.