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Published: Sunday, 9/1/2002

Crash corner can't qualify for stoplight

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Vehicles run across Joseph Garza's property at State Rt. 51 and Millbury Road, sometimes taking out trees and even smashing into his house. Vehicles run across Joseph Garza's property at State Rt. 51 and Millbury Road, sometimes taking out trees and even smashing into his house.
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MILLBURY, Ohio - Joseph and Rosa Garza are getting used to bumps in the night.

Longtime residents of the only home on the southwest corner of State Rt. 51 and Millbury Road, the couple have seen cars and trucks careen through their lawn, bang into their trees, and even smash into their house.

They have tire tracks though their grass but no stoplight at their corner.

And after years of enduring rogue vehicles damaging their property, the Garzas said they are scared to enjoy their large yard and feel unsafe in their home. And unless something is done to slow traffic down, they said they may have to move to a safer house.

“I cut the grass there on the road, and I say three prayers,” said Mr. Garza, 65, a self-employed contractor who's lived and worked at the corner for 12 years. “If nothing happens soon, we're going to have to move from here, and we love it here.”

State Rt. 51 angles across Wood County, bringing Toledo area traffic southeast into Ottawa County. While stoplights have been placed sporadically along the road, Mr. Garza lives along a stretch of State Rt. 51 where traffic is allowed to gain speed without stopping for at least five miles.

Residents, business owners, and Lake Township officials have all called on the Ohio Department of Transportation to change that with a traffic signal. But while the state sympathizes with the locals, officials said the intersection doesn't meet the criteria for a stoplight.

That seems unreal to Mr. Garza, who planted five trees in his spacious corner lot a few years ago, only to watch four of them destroyed by runaway vehicles. Just last week Mr. Garza returned home from a trip to Cedar Point to find a car in his lawn and splinters in one of his young trees. “Everybody's scared to go out here,” he said. “We built a porch on [the west] side so we can sit outside and be safe.”

According to Joe Rutherford, ODOT spokesman for District 2, the department uses crash numbers compiled by law enforcement agencies to determine where the most dangerous intersections are. Local officials also may ask the state to investigate an intersection; a stoplight only will be considered if the roads meet Ohio Revised Code guidelines, he said.

If the intersection does not meet the guidelines, any stoplight installed would be considered “illegal” and could become a liability for the state, Mr. Rutherford said.

“We've gotten probably on, an annual basis, letters from the Lake Township trustees asking us to put in a traffic signal,” he said. “There are 11 different criteria that are studied. The intersection at State Rt. 51 and Millbury Road meets none of these, and so we cannot legally put a light in.”

Among the 11 criteria, or warrants, that are required are a minimum of 500 cars per eight hours on the major street and a minimum of 150 cars on the minor street; a school crossing; or five or more personal injury or property damage accidents within 12 months that could not be prevented by other enforcement.

Lt. Greg Greggila of the Ohio Highway Patrol said his department patrols the intersection because 51 is a state route. However, the oddly-angled intersection is not among the top five or even 10 intersections countywide in terms of accidents, the commander of the Walbridge post said.

Mr. Garza said he's concerned that not all the accidents that occur on the corner are written up, something that he believes is hindering the township's ability to petition for a stoplight. Only those accidents that involve injuries or property damage require reports written, Lieutenant Greggila said.

According to Ohio Highway Patrol records, 16 property damage or injury accidents at the corner have been reported during the last five years. The crashes have resulted in 11 injuries but no deaths.

“Because of the traffic up there, when someone stops to turn into a driveway, the person behind may not have time to stop, so often someone will veer off the road,” Lieutenant Greggila said. “Obviously if they don't run into anybody, nobody calls us.”

Carolyn Urbanowicz has watched the intersection from the window of her catering shop for more than seven years. At first a part of the small strip mall on the intersection's northwest corner, Ms. Urbanowicz moved her business across the street and farther from the road.

Ms. Urbanowicz is also a partner in an adjacent banquet hall with her sister, Mary WiezBenski. The hall can bring in up to 1,000 patrons on a busy weekend. Also at the intersection is an ice cream stand, a small market, a barber shop, and a submarine shop that's on its way in.

“Millbury has experienced a lot of growth, and that's brought in more traffic,” Ms. Urbanowicz said. “On a daily basis we see [dangerous situations]. I can't tell you how many times we come by and see glass on that corner.”

Lake Township Police Chief Danny LaDuke said he often sees dangerous situations brewing on Mr. Garza's corner. That's why the Lake Township trustees continue to ask the state for a stoplight, Chief LaDuke said.

Although his officers can patrol the area, there's little chance of stopping all problems, he said.

“We've got to keep petitioning the state, and that's just what we're doing,” Chief LaDuke said. “Unfortunately, like anything, you've got to get someone killed there before something is done.”



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