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Published: Friday, 12/31/2004

Taft wants one face on highway safety

BY JOE MAHR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With Ohio lacking a collaborative highway safety program, Ohio's three traffic-safety agencies expect to meet in the next month to study ways to foster more collective efforts to save lives on deadly roadways.

Prompted by a November series in The Blade that found Ohio's collaborative efforts are years behind other states, Gov. Bob Taft ordered the Ohio Department of Transportation, State Highway Patrol, and Governor's Highway Safety Office to form an interagency task force to study ways to work together.

ODOT is a separate cabinet agency under the governor's office, while the highway patrol and governor's safety office operate under the umbrella of the cabinet-level Department of Public Safety.

ODOT spokesman Brian Cunningham said administrators from all the agencies have met to develop "parameters and concepts" for the task force, which he said should formally meet by Jan. 31.

"The governor and [Public Safety] Director [Kenneth] Morckel are very serious about this," Mr. Cunningham said. "It's going to be an interagency task force. It will be something that once the final report has come out, it will become a business practice for all involved."

The three-day series in The Blade, "Behind the Curve: Ohio's Killer Corridors," found that Ohio's three traffic-safety agencies have different criteria to determine what's dangerous, and that leads each to target different areas and use different methods to address safety problems along Ohio's 19,000-mile, state-administered highway system.

Unless the state has the money for big-ticket engineering fixes on dangerous roadways, which is rare, ODOT targets segments less than two miles long for engineering fixes. But some safety experts across the country have said such formulas used to pinpoint such small segments can miss longer stretches of dangerous roadway - where the odds of serious crashes may be worse but the crashes aren't concentrated enough to trip the formulas.

The highway patrol offers temporary, beefed-up enforcement on dangerous roadways. But each patrol district has its own criteria to determine what's dangerous.

The highway safety office pushes statewide advertising campaigns to improve driver behavior, and it doles out grants to local police to boost enforcement. But the office doesn't target cash to specific roadways.

None of the agencies ranks crash trends along long stretches of roadway, or teams up their expertise on such stretches. Traffic safety experts say the best way to reduce crashes is combining engineering fixes with beefed-up enforcement and public education.

Eight other states, including Pennsylvania and Kentucky, have programs that identify dangerous roadway corridors, and team up highway engineers, police, traffic-safety advocates, and, often, local citizens to find ways to reduce crashes. Programs in three of the states have won national acclaim.

Mr. Cunningham said ODOT's safety office has begun studying those efforts in other states to tailor a program for Ohio.

"There's a variety of different things [other states] do. There's not one cure-all," he said.

Contact Joe Mahr at:

jmahr@theblade.com

or 419-724-6180.



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