Neighbors say slow down on stretch of highway

US-31 and Bestie River road has seen a trend of crashes over the past several years.

Last week's deadly crash on US-31 and Betsie River Road has stirred up concerns among residents who live along the highway, who say it's a very accident-prone area.

Last Wednesday, 86-year-old Ward E. Long was killed in the two-car crash that shut down part of US-31 near Betsie River Road for several hours.

The Grand Traverse Sheriff's Office said a handicap van traveling west on US-31 driven by a 66-year-old Onekama woman crossed the centerline and hit a truck going the opposite direction. The truck was driven by a 55-year-old Frankfort man.

Both drivers and all occupants of the cars were transported to Munson for injuries. An 86-year-old occupant of the van was later pronounced dead.

This story received a lot of comments from our Facebook viewers. One viewer Karen McLain commented: â??I live on 31 and as a matter fact this accident happened [sic] right in front of my house, this is the fourth fatal in front of my house in the 5 years I have lived here. Tons of cars that pass here and there are lots of hidden driveways and businesses along here where people are pulling out all the time. People drive way too fast and need to be more patient along here. Its not worth your life or someone elseâ??s.â??

7&4 News took these concerns to the Grand Traverse County Sheriffâ??s Office, who did some research into just how many crashes theyâ??ve responded to near US-31 and Betsie River Road in Grand Traverse County.

In 2012, there were four crashes within a half-mile radius of the crash site at US-31 and Bestie River Road.

  • 2011: 1 crash

  • 2010: 3 crashes

  • 2009: 5 crashes

  • 2008: 2 crashes

While this numbers may not seem overwhelming, these crashes took place within a half-mile radius of the intersection of US-31 and Betsie River Road. These type of numbers indicate that crashes in this area are not a fluke.

Captain Randy Fewless from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff's Office says, "I think that you could find several other areas in our county that the numbers would be similar to that. I think a particiular stretch of roadway like this, that is open, espeically during the winter time, when you have open areas, they tend to be more slippery due to wind coming over and they get more icy, thus were going to see more accidents in those stretches."

The Michigan Department of Transportation, which is responsible for nearly 10,000 miles of roads, says all too often, poor driver behavior leads to many crashes throughout the state.

Bob Felt, from the MDOT Office of Communication, says engineers often analyze the data collected and study the frequency and severity of crashes in hopes of minimizing crashes and, obviously, casualties.

"Because the vast majority of crashes are caused by drivers, there is not necessarily an engineering fix to percieved problems in certain areas," Felt said. "While one fatality is too many, more drivers need to eliminate distractions, slow down, and drive with purpose - to get there safely!"

Felt also pointed to the current funding crisis as a reason MDOT is unable to address some things on it's "wish list."

Felt said his heart goes out to the friends and families of all victims lost on roadways.

"Please know that we are always working hard behind-the-scenes to identify more innovative ways to improve safety throughout our transportation network," Felt said. "Our goal is to get to zero fatalities some day."