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Doug Walker calls it “suicide corner’’.
Walker and his wife live close to the intersection of Route 24 and Route 315 in Caledonia, the scene of dozens of serious collisions and fatalities over the years.
The provincial government recently reduced the speed on Route 315 in the area to 70 km/h and announced this week that it will construct a roundabout at the intersection this spring in an effort to make things safer.
“I’ve carried some bodies out of there over the years,’’ Walker sighs, explaining that he and his neighbours are usually the first people on scene when a collision occurs. “My neighbour was a medic in the army. He hears (the collisions), and every time there was a crash he would call me because he knows he can depend on me to come down and help.’’
Traffic on Route 315 has the right-of-way while approaching traffic on Route 24 has a stop sign on either side and flashing red lights. There are also rumble strips on either side of Route 24 designed to warn drivers that there is a stop sign ahead.
In October, a collision at the intersection claimed the lives of three eastern P.E.I. residents when a car and a dump truck collided.
“That was the final straw for us,’’ said Transportation Minister Steven Myers. “Right after the last accident around Thanksgiving we had all staff meet out there. Living in Kings County, it always scares me to go through it and it scares me to know that my kids will be driving through there and the dangers associated with it.’’
The meeting included the province’s chief engineers, engineering staff, area MLAs and traffic supervisors.
“We came up with a roundabout design there that will slow traffic down and make it safer,’’ the minister said. “Hopefully, there will be zero fatalities (in the future) and if not, there should be 99 per cent fewer fatalities.’’
One resident on Route 24 near the intersection, who didn’t want her name published, said she has attended accident scenes and held the hand of victims as they were dying. While she agrees the intersection is dangerous, she worries about constructing a roundabout at the bottom of the hill on Route 315 where the two highways meet. She said a lot of trucks hauling heavy cargo come off the ferry in Wood Islands and will have issues slowing down at the roundabout.
Walker says driver inattention is mostly to blame for the collisions at the intersection as it is now.
Walker said Route 24 has much more traffic on it than Route 315 and the stop signs should apply to vehicles travelling on the 315.
“You can go across that intersection down there 100 times and you’ll never see a car coming (on Route 315) and people get used to that. It’s not dangerous. There’s no bumps; no curves; it’s wide open; you can see both ways.’’
Still, he thinks a roundabout should make things safer as it will force traffic to slow down.
John Hameline is also happy to hear the province is acting.
“Some people don’t (like the roundabout idea), but if it saves just one life it’s worth it,’’ said Hameline who has lived on Route 24 for the past 17 years.
Roger Riley, who lives a couple of kilometres from the intersection on Route 24, said by his count there have been 29 serious collisions in the past 40 years. He said the sound of a collision is horrific, and every incident has a story.
“I remember one a few years ago. A lady . . . was killed,’’ Riley recalls. “My wife and I were sitting on the deck and we heard the smash and we went down.’’
Riley said he learned at the scene that the driver of a van was singing songs with kids in the back, heading to a picnic, and ran through the intersection into a car, killing a man’s wife.
“Simply not paying attention,’’ said Riley, adding that what he and Walker have witnessed over the years is downright chilling. Riley can remember every detail about every collision.
Walker said they’re etched in his mind as well.
When asked how he deals with what he has seen, Walker says, “I worked hospice for years so I’m used to being around people who are dying or dead.’’
“I’m never going too fast. I’m scared because you don’t know who is not paying attention. People take chances.’’
Riley, who is also a truck driver, said distracted driving is a major problem on the roads, saying he has witnessed people not only on their cellphones while driving but also reading.
“You can’t imagine the things people do on the road,’’ he said. “It is absolutely scary.’’
Riley said he has driven heavy loads from the ferry down Route 315 and is always extra cautious when approaching Route 24.
“I’m never going too fast. I’m scared because you don’t know who is not paying attention,’’ Riley said, tapping his finger on his kitchen table to emphasize the last few words. “People take chances.’’
Myers said from an engineering perspective there is nothing wrong with the sightlines at the intersection, but collisions seem to keep occurring.
“We looked at numerous things, but a roundabout was the best option,’’ the minister said, adding that construction will begin in the spring and be wrapped up prior to tourist season.
Myers said he hopes reducing the speed limit on Route 315 and constructing a roundabout will improve the safety factor.
A public information session on the planned change will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at the WellSpring Presbyterian Church in Alliston. Myers said the department hopes to issue the tender shortly after that.
Kings District RCMP Sgt. Chris Gunn said the final report from last October’s collision isn’t back yet, but he doesn’t expect it will contain any surprises.
When asked about the roundabout, Gunn said any improvement to road safety is encouraged.
“Whatever the province does to the intersection, hopefully improves road safety,’’ Gunn said.