EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 20, 2010

Crashes spur safety changes

By Shawn Regan

HAVERHILL — It is one of the city's most dangerous intersections — where drivers from Haverhill, Methuen and southern New Hampshire converge.

Cars involved in crashes there have collided with each other, hit walls and fences in front of homes, and knocked out a blinking stop light.

The city is taking steps to improve safety at the intersection of Route 97, South Crystal and Crystal streets in Ayers Village.

The village, in Haverhill's northwest corner, is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. Route 97 runs through the heart of the village and links inner-city Haverhill and Interstate 495 with the New Hampshire line. The intersection is just north of the village's volunteer fire station.

As that part of Haverhill and Southern New Hampshire have grown, traffic has increased, turning Route 97 from what was once a lazy back road into a busy street.

Complicating matters is the fact that a recent car crash there knocked out a red blinking light which was not immediately replaced. That led to other collisions before temporary stop signs were erected.

The city is taking steps to ensure drivers entering the intersection from South Crystal and Crystal streets are aware of the traffic ahead. Signs marked "dangerous intersection ahead" have been erected on those streets.

The problems at that intersection have caused a safety ripple effect elsewhere in Haverhill.

New policies are in place to make sure drivers are protected in the event a car accident knocks down a stop sign or blinking stop light at any intersection, Mayor James Fiorentini said.

On March 21, a crash at the intersection of South Crystal and Crystal streets knocked out the blinking "red" light that was the only warning to drivers to stop before the roads intersect with Route 97 — a state highway where heavy traffic regularly travels at 50 mph or more.

City officials said a stop sign was never installed at the intersection — despite an ordinance requiring one that was passed in 1994 — because there was already a blinking red light, which serves the same function.

Nothing was put up at the crossroads in place of the damaged overhead stop light and six days later on March 27 there was another car crash there, with one car blind-siding another.

John Sirois, 1461 Broadway, said he contacted the Police Department shortly after the first accident to report the absence of a light or sign at the intersection. He said he was told to call the Highway Department. Someone at the Highway Department told him to contact the Fire Department, which is in charge of traffic signals in Haverhill. City officials said the employee responsible for replacing the light was on vacation around the time of the first accident.

Fiorentini said the city did a poor job responding to the situation. He said steps have since been taken to make sure the mistakes are never repeated.

The mayor said he has issued an order that the police, fire and public works departments work together to make sure emergency stop signs are immediately installed whenever originals are damaged in traffic accidents or for any other reason. If there is a delay in installing a backup stop sign or stop light, the mayor said police will staff such an intersection with a traffic detail officer.

Fiorentini also said he has directed the Public Works Department to identify every blinking "red" traffic light in the city and make sure there is a stop sign to go along with it. Some intersections still only have blinking "red" lights, he said.

Meanwhile, new signs warning drivers on South Crystal and Crystal streets of the approaching Broadway intersection have been installed on the roadways.

The city has also purchased a backup blinking "red" light that will be stored at the public works garage in case one is needed in an emergency to replace one that is damaged, the mayor said.

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