The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking to install a J-turn at the intersection of Highway 57 and Highway C in Brussels, in order to reduce the number of collisions at the crash-heavy intersection.
According to DOT Safety Engineer Scott Nelson, who presented the idea to the Door County Board of Supervisors at its April 16 meeting, there have been about 25 crashes at the intersection of 57 and C since 57 became a four-lane highway in 2008. In comparison, the other intersections along Highway 57 have only had about five or six crashes each in that time.
“Motorists are doing a good job of judging gaps to get across the first set of lanes,” said Nelson, speaking of the intersection at 57 and C. “The motorist is stopping to get across the median; when they get to the median to go to the far side that’s where the crash has been occurring.”
Nelson said the safest change to the intersection would be to simply close off the median and only allow right turns onto and off of 57, but the DOT recognized that would create a traffic flow issue. The next safest option would be to create an interchange at the intersection, but that would cost millions of dollars and could take a decade to get done.
So the option the DOT has settled on is a J-turn, a relatively recent concept in Wisconsin. If a J-turn is constructed, traffic on 57 would be free to do everything it can do now, including turn left off of the highway.
Traffic coming onto 57 from C, however, would only be able to make right turns. In order to reverse direction, drivers would have to move into the middle lane and drive about a quarter-mile to make a U-turn through a break in the median.
“It is going to be less convenient because you’re going to have to go a quarter-mile down the road to come back…but again what we’re trying to do is simplify the driving task,” said Nelson. “You’ll just get on the highway and make one lane change to get into the J-turn.”
Installation of the J-turn would cost about $500,000, all of which would be paid by the state, and could be done in as soon as one to two years. One J-turn has already been installed in Wisconsin, in Douglas County, and two more are slated to be built this year in Brown and Sheboygan County.
Having already driven through a J-turn himself, Supervisor Chuck Brann said he supported the idea, but saw an issue with drivers who choose to drive too slowly as they prepared to make their U-turn. Supervisor Richard Haines, who cast the only no vote on the County’s resolution supporting the J-turn installation, was wary of residents having to learn a new type of intersection.
Nelson said the intersection would be well signed, and the DOT would conduct community outreach through a variety of avenues if the intersection went in. He also said nationwide data show an overall crash reduction rate of 55 to 60 percent at J-turn intersections, and the intersection type eliminates the potential for more dangerous right-angle crashes.
“I’m not here to tell you we’re never going to have a crash at this location again, but we’re going to significantly reduce the number of crashes, and I expect the severity to go down as well, because our vehicles are designed for rear-end impact much more than they are side impact,” said Nelson.
If you’d like to learn more about J-turns, visit the DOT’s website at dot.wisconsin.gov and search for “J-turn.”