WHITE CITY — A rash of serious crashes at the intersection of Kershaw Road and Highway 140 spurred state transportation officials this week to discuss interim solutions for the junction until major improvements that are planned in 2020.
State transportation officials say they’ll announce traffic-calming measures next week that will help decrease high-speed crashes at the site. Solutions could include larger signs, better lighting, reduced speed limits and rumble strips prior to the intersection.
The intersection, which includes a dangerous mix of slower traffic along Kershaw Road and speeding traffic on busy Highway 140, was the location of at least three major crashes in 2017, two of which involved fatalities.
On Dec. 28, 65-year-old Vernon Black and 59-year-old Rachel Black, both of Rancho Cucamonga, California, pulled into the path of a semi driven by 49-year-old Kelly Kime of Grants Pass. The couple were pronounced dead at the scene.
On Jan. 2, hours after ODOT officials met to discuss the intersection, a motorcyclist was struck along Highway 140 when an SUV turning left onto Kershaw Road failed to yield.
Last May, 21-year-old Hunter Hoeptner, a former state wrestling champion from Eagle Point, was killed while riding his motorcycle through the intersection.
Hoeptner’s death prompted a public outcry, which included more than 3,500 signatures on a petition urging improvements. After last week’s crashes, the petition yielded another 1,500 signatures.
ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said state transportation officials have kept an eye on the intersection — upgrades in 2005 were prompted by an increasing numbers of accidents — and changes were underway before any of the 2017 crashes.
Leaming said three fatal crashes were recorded between 2000 and 2005, but road improvements, including flashing red and yellow lights added in 2006, had decreased the number of fatal crashes for nearly a decade before last year.
“We went like 10 years without a fatality there, and then we had two this year,” said Leaming.
Plans are underway to connect Foothill Road to Highway 140, and for a $2.2 million highway-style roundabout near Atlantic Avenue. Leaming said the roundabout would reduce the number of high-speed crashes.
“When you tell people about a roundabout, they immediately think about the Highland/Siskiyou roundabout in Medford, but that’s tiny and set for 25 miles per hour,” Leaming said.
“A highway-style roundabout accommodates the largest trucks allowed on the highway and would eliminate the serious T-bone fatalities that intersection is known for.”
After Foothill connects to the state highway, Leaming said, left turns from the intersection and crossing the roadway would be eliminated.
“The existing (Kershaw) intersection will be right in and right out, and possibly left in, but we won’t allow crossing the highway,” Leaming said.
“We’re two years out from those improvements, but we realized something had to be done in the interim to improve visibility and driver behavior at that intersection now.”
— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.