WTOC Investigates: Data shows increase in crashes along 37th Street

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 1:55 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - An out-of-control semi-truck driver on the interstate smashed into 18 vehicles before officers were able to stop the driver at gunpoint in a Savannah neighborhood.

The crash scene stretched for about 13 miles from Interstate 16 and Pooler Parkway to 37th Street and Richter Street.

An analysis of city crash data by WTOC Investigates shows what happened on Jan. 17, 2021, is an extreme example of the uptick in collisions along the 37th Street corridor.

It’s a concern for Rebecca Fenwick who lives in the Culyer-Brownsville neighborhood near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“The traffic has been very alarming, especially the lives that have been lost,” she said.

At times, she’s had a front row seat to the carnage. Her home office window overlooks the intersection.

“We find that we’re going out quite constantly to see if everyone is okay, all hours.”

New crash data released for 2020 shows Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and 37th Street has the second highest crash rate in Savannah and it’s part of a trend of an uptick in crashes at intersections in the area.

Three other intersections along 37th street also made the city’s Top 20 crash location list in 2019: Ogeechee Road & 37th Street; 37th & Whitaker streets and Montgomery and 37th streets, which made the list again in 2020.

The city’s traffic engineer department closely studies crash data in Savannah and compiles the Top 20 crash location list each year – looking for trends and what engineers can correct.

“We are looking at all crashes because you can have three right angles and nobody be injured and if there all related then we have something correctable,” said Steve Henry, director of City of Savannah Mobility Services. “What is occurring here that we can fix or improve?”

Much of what is occurring is often out of their control: driver impairment, distracted driving and in some cases a deadly police chase.

But some of the crash trends along 37th Street have already led to some improvements. The department recently replaced all the traffic light signals along 37th Street with larger ones and a reflective yellow backing, Henry said.

A larger discussion is underway with how to improve the entire 37th Street corridor from Interstate 16 to Abercorn Street, which handles on average more than 22,000 cars each day.

Until last year, the stretch of 37th Street was a state route known as the 204 SPUR.

Recent negotiations between the city and Georgia Department of Transportation are what led to the change.

“It kind of allows us to be a little bit more outside the box and not have to go through GDOT,” Henry explained.

One change under consideration is narrowing the tree-lined medians on 37th to make it safer for residents who are allowed to park on the street and for drivers - exiting the interstate. “We hope to work with the community to agree the next best step forward. (The plan is) very preliminary. It recently became a city road which allows us to do this in-house. We have some funding for the design,” Henry said.

The design will focus on correctable crashes, unlike what police say happened on Jan. 17, 2021.

Savannah Police say they now believe the driver had a medical episode that day, which caused him to lose control.

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