Car crashes snarl traffic often on Interstate 17

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) -- There's little that can be done about the ensuing traffic backup when car crashes occur on the major interstate connecting Phoenix and Prescott, state transportation officials said this week.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has seemingly issued more traffic alerts than usual warning of a collision closing one or more lanes on Interstate 17, the Daily Courier reported.

The agency, however, refuted some claims that they are happening on average of once a week.

"I don't know that we have any kind of figure like that," ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel told The Associated Press. "You can have a couple of crashes in a week's period but then go quite a while without another one."

If the incident involves a fatality, lanes are typically shut down for several hours so authorities such as the Arizona Department of Public Safety can investigate the scene.

Members of the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization, a partnership between ADOT and the Yavapai County area, said the hourslong delays are happening far too often.

"It just seems like it's becoming so common," organization Chairman Chris Kuknyo said.

The group recently met about the issue and proposed some remedies. But none of them are feasible, according to ADOT officials.

Kuknyo, who serves on the Prescott City Council, suggested turning one side of I-17 into a two-way traffic system any time an incident shuts down the other side.

But Alvin Stump, an ADOT district engineer, said the volume of traffic on I-17 would make that impossible. According to Stump, roughly 30,000 vehicles travel on the highway daily. That number jumps to 40,000 on weekends and 50,000 during holiday weekends.

That's just too much traffic to allow for rerouting from one side of the interstate to the other, Stump said.

Ideally, a short-term solution would be for the state to build more climbing lanes, which facilitate the passing of trucks and slow moving vehicles on uphill highway stretches. The best place to put in climbing lanes would be near Black Canyon City, Stump said.

Another idea is to build a lane that could be utilized for traffic in either direction when the need arises. Unfortunately, both proposals cost time and money, Stump said.

The Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization also questioned the need to close traffic lanes for several hours to write accident reports, which DPS typically handles. Most recently, a Sept. 12 crash that left one person dead closed northbound I-17 for an hour and one lane for three hours.

Stump said accidents with fatalities inevitably shut down lanes. Law enforcement and officials need to get on site, Stump said.

Nintzel said putting in short-term lanes or major construction "doesn't mean the highway won't need to be closed if a crash occurs."

"Drivers really hold the key to safety in that area," Nintzel said.

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