MASON, Ohio -- As thousands of Tri-State families and out-of-town thrill seekers flock to Kings Island this season to ride the park’s new rollercoaster, public safety officials are warning travelers that the scariest ride may be on the way there.
The intersection of Western Row Road and Kings Island Drive ranked among the top intersections in Warren County where the most crashes occurred in 2013, according to a WCPO analysis of data from the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
“During the peak season involving the park, this is one of our highest areas for traffic accidents,” said Sgt. Clint Arnold at the Warren County Highway Patrol post.
State troopers and Mason police officers are expected to have an added presence near the Kings Island entrance Friday and through the weekend, timed with the park’s 2014 opening. Arnold said troopers will remind drivers to watch for stopped traffic near the exit ramp on I-71.
“Our severe injuries occur most on Interstate 71 northbound when traffic gets backed up all the way to the interstate from Kings Island,” he said.
Arnold said the 145-foot width of the Western Row Road and Kings Island Drive intersection makes it challenging for cars to pass through the high-traffic area before the lights change, and many cars haven’t slowed down when they get off the exit-ramp from I-71.
“They are entering the intersection at essentially close to highway speeds,” he said.
Arnold said the number of lanes at the intersection—six on Western Row Road and seven on Kings Island Drive—can create chaos when out-of-town park visitors unfamiliar with the area try to switch lanes at the last minute.
“When there is heavy traffic entering or exiting the [amusement] park, drivers may become impatient and may become more aggressive in their driving characteristics. That’s when we see a lot of traffic crashes,” said Arnold. “Most of the accidents happen on the south end of the intersection when the park is opening and on the north end when the park is closing.”
WCPO analyzed the 2013 traffic mishaps at the intersection, and the most accident-prone intersections in Butler and Warren counties. Those areas are among the most populated counties in the Tri-State and continue to grow in population.
The analysis focused on intersections with 10 or more reported accidents in 2013. The data are based on summary totals from county police and detailed data records from the Ohio Highway Patrol. The totals only include crashes that occurred at the intersection. Crashes that occurred near or around the crossroads were not included in this analysis.
"If there are four or five cars stopped at a red light at an intersection and the fifth car strikes the fourth car in the rear end, that crash did not occur at the intersection," said Lt. Edward Majia, post commander at the Butler County Highway Patrol.
There were 14 different intersections that recorded double-digit accident totals last year. There were a total of 183 different crashes at those sites, which involved 378 vehicles and 512 individuals.
Top crash locations:
- Cincinnati-Dayton and Yankee roads (Butler County) – 19 accidents
- U.S. 22 and State Route 48 (Warren County) – 18 accidents
- Mason-Montgomery and Socialville-Foster roads (Warren County) – 16 accidents
- Oxford State Road and Cincinnati-Dayton Road (Butler County) – 14 accidents
- I-75 and State Route 73 (Warren County) – 14 accidents
- I-75 and State Route 122 (Warren County) – 13 accidents
- Wayne-Madison Road and State Street (Butler County) – 13 accidents
- Breiel Boulevard and Grand Avenue (Butler County) – 13 accidents
- State Route 4 and Nilles Road (Butler County) – 12 accidents
- Tylersville and Cox roads (Butler County) – 12 accidents
- Western Row Road and Kings Island Drive (Warren County) – 11 accidents
- U.S. 22 and Columbia Road (Warren County) – 10 accidents
- State Route 747 and Hamilton-Mason Road (Butler County) – 10 accidents
- U.S. 27 & State Route 129 (Butler County) – 10 accidents
Why those intersections?
Transportation and public safety experts attribute most of those accidents to the high volume of cars that pass through every day.
"Nearly all of [those intersections] don't have any sight distance issues like hills or geographical flaws," said Brian Cunningham, communications manager for the Ohio Department of Transportation. "It's basically that residential and commercial facilities have kind of grown, and we've had to make some adjustments in things."
Butler and Warren counties have the second and fourth-highest population growth rates among the seven counties representing the region (Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren in Ohio; Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky), with businesses continuing to expand in this region.
That's why the Butler County Engineer's Office is about to embark on a $2,468,243 construction project at the intersection of Cincinnati Dayton and Yankee roads. The interchange —one of the main areas feeding into the eastern part of Liberty Township—ranked at the top of the list for the highest number of crashes in 2013.
The intersection is located near a Kroger and Cincinnati's Children's Hospital, which continues to expand. Thirty-eight thousand vehicles travel through the intersection on average each day, according to the Butler County Engineer's Office.
"There's a lot of development taking place up there," said Chris Petrocy, spokesperson for the Butler County Engineer's Office. "That's an area that's been exploding with growth over the past 10 years or so. With Children's Hospital in particular expanding quite a bit up there, we're just expecting greater traffic volumes."
Beginning in just a few weeks, construction crews will work on widening Cincinnati Dayton Road at the State Route 129 interchange. Crews will add an additional north and southbound lane to Cincinnati Dayton Road and also improve the east and westbound exit ramps for turning movements.
"Capacity has a direct relationship to accident history, and if you can make traffic run smoother, you have less potential for accidents," said Greg Wilkens, Butler County engineer.
Petrocy said the widening project will also ensure that emergency vehicles on their way to and from the hospital can get through the area with more ease.
Children's Hospital is funding $491,725 for the construction project, given the additional traffic their expansion adds to the intersection.
Federal funds cover $1,966,900 for the project and the county will pay $9,618.
Analysis & interactive map
State Highway Patrol commanders and county and city engineers say they continuously monitor local crash statistics and calculate the traffic volume at intersections and on roads to determine when to address a traffic need or design flaw.
"During rush hour traffic when people are going home, we notice that there is a trend that crashes start to pick up," Majia at the Butler County Highway Patrol post. "That's when we get in high visibility and enforcement mode to see if there's any flagrant violations."
About 52 percent of the wrecks were rear-end collisions, while another 33 percent were "angled" crashes, which refers to when vehicles are struck another direction than head-on.
While there were no reported deaths, at least one person was hurt in about 35 percent of the accidents. Of those accidents with injury, 30 percent had multiple injuries.
Forty-eight percent of the crashes occurred under clear skies. Just about 18 percent were reported during snowy or rainy conditions. Drivers reported a road-related factor, such as bumps, holes or uneven pavement in three of every four mishaps.
Click the interactive graphic below to explore the characteristics of the intersection crashes and locations. Butler County crash data is preliminary as of March 10, 2013. Warren County crash data is preliminary as of March 4, 2013.
A closer look: Western Row Road & Kings Island Drive
A WCPO analysis of the 29 accidents reported at this intersection from 2011 to 2013 found:
- Accidents were more likely to happen during the Kings Island Amusement Park season. Twenty of the 29 accidents occurred between April and October. The most accidents over that period were reported in June.
- More than half of the accidents occurred during afternoon and evening hours of the day, which correspond with peak commuter times and amusement park hours.
- Nine of the 29 accidents occurred on a weekend day (Friday, Saturday or Sunday), which is historically the busiest time of the week at Kings Island. More accidents at that intersection happened on Monday than any other day of the week.
- Most of the crashes (62.1 percent) were rear-end collisions. Overall, police said 16 of the 29 wrecks resulted from a driver “following too closely.”
Kurt Seiler, Mason City Engineer, said the city is working with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Warren County Transportation Improvement District on a multi-phase project that will impact the traffic flow at that intersection, and potentially reduce the likelihood of accidents.
"A lot of the crashes are just due to the congestion at that intersection," he said.
The project includes relocating the neighboring intersection at Columbia Road, which he said currently backs up traffic due to its close proximity to the Western Row Road and Kings Island Drive intersection.
"The Columbia Road intersection is just east of it and doesn't allow for stacking," said Seiler.
Construction on that project is slated to begin in 2016.
Seiler said the multi-phase project also includes adding southbound turn lanes on Kings Island Drive.
"This will pull all of those left turners out of the intersection because they will now be able to make a right turn and get on the highway," he said.