CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hundreds of thousands of people drive through Mecklenburg County’s busiest intersections every day, trusting that the right traffic controls are in place to keep them safe.
A Channel 9 investigation has revealed some of those intersections are actually much more dangerous than they’re supposed to be.
In an exclusive report, Channel 9 reporter Mark Barber discovered that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has known, for years in some cases, which intersections are unsafe. However, none of the unsafe intersections uncovered by Channel 9 have been fixed.
Many of the risky roads are in heavily traveled areas, including Lake Norman, South End, Steele Creek, Matthews, east Charlotte, south Charlotte and north Charlotte.
Eyewitness News started digging into the issue in September after a serious crash on Monroe Road at Covedale Drive in east Charlotte resulted in a mess of mangled metal.
“I came to the intersection, looked -- it looked clear -- and I pulled out and got blindsided, and that was it,” recalled driver Paul Miedema.
He was knocked unconscious when his car was T-boned. When he finally reopened his eyes, he realized the driver of another car had hit him and then slammed into a CATS bus.
"I'm thankful to be alive, really,” Miedema said.
Channel 9 discovered that the wreck happened more than a year after the NCDOT learned the intersection was so dangerous it needed its own stoplight, yet the agency says it still doesn’t know when the traffic light will be installed.
If a stoplight went up right after the NCDOT discovered the trouble, drivers said it could've stopped some of the 22 crashes that have possibly hurt as many as 13 people over the past two years.
That intersection is just one small part of a bigger problem.
Barber and investigative producer Mike Stolp spent hours digging through data on thousands of crashes to uncover 20 intersections that need stop light improvements or protected left turns.
Here are some of the busiest intersections where drivers think dozens of crashes could have been stopped in Mecklenburg County:
- University Boulevard at Harris Houston (28 crashes since June 2016)
- Rocky River Road at Hood Road (27 crashes since June 2016)
- East John Street at Morningwood Road (22 crashes since June 2016)
- Pineville-Matthews Road at McMullen Creek Parkway (35 crashes since June 2016)
In all, Channel 9 counted more than 300 crashes at the 20 intersections since June 2016.
According to the NCDOT's data, people were possibly hurt in more than 100 of those wrecks.
Barber took the findings to NCDOT traffic engineer Anthony Tagliaferri and asked if the NCDOT is failing to keep drivers safe.
"I would say we are in the process of getting things identified and funded and constructed," Tagliaferri said.
He said that all of the high-risk intersections won't be fixed until the department's office in Raleigh finds more money.
Charlotte’s road projects are stuck on a waiting list with dozens of other state projects. The city’s intersection improvements will get to the top of that list eventually, but it will take time.
"Our group is working as hard as we can with what we're offered with funding,” Tagliaferri said.
Miedema said he was not satisfied with the NCDOT’s response.
A traffic expert at UNC Charlotte told Channel 9 he's in the same lane as worried drivers.
"It's not acceptable,” said UNCC traffic engineer Srinivas Pulugurtha. He thinks one of the best options lawmakers have to find more money is to raise the gas tax.
"We need to find solutions to fix the problem," Pulugurtha said.
Miedema is still working through occasional back pain from his wreck and said drivers can't wait any longer for action.
"I'm sure there's red tape but eventually you got to do something," he told Channel 9.
Miedema is pleading for the NCDOT to help before even more people are hurt.
"Think about your own family and friends that could be in the same situation I was, or even worse,” he said.
It’s important to note that all the crash numbers mentioned in this report may not even show the full picture. When Channel 9 asked the NCDOT to review the crash data, the agency said it could take 300 hours and cost as much as $20,000 to go through the numbers.
So, we did it ourselves.
Since we are not trained analysts with the department, the NCDOT said it’s possible our numbers won’t provide a perfect representation of how many crashes have happened because our count could under-represent that number.
Here are the cross streets for the danger zones that need improvements:
- I-77 SB RAMP AT LASALLE: Funded in December 2017 but still waiting for construction
- WEST SUGAR CREEK ROAD AT BROWNES FERRY ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- NC 115 AT HUNTERSVILLE-CONCORD ROAD in downtown Huntersville: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- SOUTH BLVD/MOREHEAD/CALDWELL in South End: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- NC160 (STEELE CREEK ROAD) AT ERWIN ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- SUNSET ROAD AT PEACHTREE ROAD: Funded in May 2017 but construction won’t start until spring 2020
- LNC 49 (UNIVERSITY BLVD) AND HARRIS HOUSTON ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- RAMP WIDENING FOR I-485 AT LAWYERS ROAD: Funded in February 2017 but construction won’t start until spring 2019
- HARRISBURG ROAD AT CAMP STEWART ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- MONROE ROAD AT COVEDALE DRIVE: NCDOT is acquiring right of way. Once that’s complete it could take six months to install the traffic signal
- ROCKY RIVER ROAD at HOOD ROAD AND BACK CREEK CHURCH ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- PLEASANT PLAINS ROAD AT CALLONWOOD DRIVE: Waiting for funding approval
- SHOPTON ROAD AT SANDY PORTER ROAD: Waiting for funding approval
- EAST JOHN STREET AT MORNINGWOOD ROAD: Waiting for funding approval
- NC 51 (PINEVILLE-MATTHEWS ROAD) AT MCMULLEN CREEK BOULEVARD: Waiting for funding approval
- W.T. HARRIS (NC 24) AT BACK CREEK DRIVE: Waiting for funding approval
- STATESVILLE ROAD (US 21) AT HAMBRIGHT ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- NC 115 (OLD STATESVILLE ROAD) AT SR 2481 (HUCKS ROAD): Funding has been approved but a timeline for when construction will be completed isn’t readily available from NCDOT
- REA ROAD AT OLD PROVIDENCE: Funded in November 2016 and it will be let for construction in September 2018
- WEDDINGTON ROAD AT MCKEE ROAD: Information isn’t readily available from NCDOT
[NOTE: The NCDOT is not the only agency that manages road improvements in Mecklenburg County. The Charlotte Department of Transportation also oversees roads in the city, but their numbers weren’t reviewed for this report because of the sheer data our team had to mine through just for NCDOT’s records.]
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