Data from Kentucky State Police shows recent discussion surrounding lowering the speed limits of Ky. 40 through Paintsville may be a sound preemptive measure as the city pushes to utilize and develop the area.
The talk began as discussion of an incident near Paintsville Utilities maintenance area, where an out-of-control vehicle breached the fence and narrowly missed hitting a pedestrian. Traffic leaving downtown from the S-curve near Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center goes from a 25 mile-per-hour zone to a short 35 mile-per-hour zone before the road becomes limited to 55 mile-per-hour up to the intersection with Ky. 321.
“I’m going to get on my soapbox here,” Mayor Bill Mike Runyon said. “The state controls a lot of the speed limits because that is a state road. It shouldn’t be 35 to start with, but it shouldn’t go from 35 to 55 all of the sudden. It actually should be 25 around the S-curve, up to 35 around the old Lowe’s building, then once you pass Northgate, it may go up to 45. It doesn’t need to be 55. Now, that’s just my personal thoughts on it.”
However, KSP crash data from January 1, 2017 through July 2019 show the rate of wrecks on Ky. 40 through its 55 mile-per-hour zone to be far lower than the rate at other, slower points on the road.
According to the data, the road, also called Third Street and Euclid Avenue at different points, is attributed with over 100 wrecks in that time period.
Of those wrecks, 10 took place at or near the intersection of Ky. 40 and U.S. 23, with two involving injuries; 13 took place between that intersection and the intersection with Ky. 321, two of those with injuries; and 17 took place within 100 feet of the intersection of Ky. 40 and Ky. 321, including three with injury.
Along the 55-mile-per-hour stretch between the Ky. 40/321 intersection and the curve near Paul B. Hall Regional Medical Center, there were 13 wrecks in that time, with two injuries.
For comparison, the span of between Ky. 321 and U.S. 23 is approximately half a mile; the span from Ky. 321 to Paul B. Hall, Google Maps shows, is 1.5 miles.
The much more dangerous road through town, the data shows, is Ky. 321, from its aforementioned intersection with Ky. 40 through Mill Branch Road. That stretch of road is also 1.5 miles, but rife with intersections, and although it alternates between 35 mph and 45 mph zones, it saw a whopping 143 wrecks, 25 with injury.
As for Ky. 40, the data does not change much as the road goes through town. Another 14 wrecks occurred on the half-mile stretch between the Paul B. Hall curve and the sharp right turn where the road turns in an intersection with Margaret Heights, one with injury, despite a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit through town. The short span where Ky. 40, now called Euclid Avenue, intersects with both 2nd Street and Main Street saw another three wrecks, two with injury, and on the three-quarters of a mile from the intersection of Euclid and Main to the Euclid Avenue bridge over the Levisa Fork, there were 24 wrecks, six of those with injuries.
One reason the faster stretch of road might appear to be safer could lie in the causes of wrecks. In Johnson County, the crash data shows, 53 percent of traffic accidents were attributed to no human factor, and 28 percent attributed to “inattention.” The causes of “not (having the vehicle) under proper control” and “too fast for conditions,” combined, totaled just over five percent.
Faster is certainly not safer; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a doubling of speed results in a quadrupling of the necessary braking distance to reach a stop. The NHTSA says peed was considered a factor in 26 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide in 2017.
Lowered speed limits, Mayor Bill Mike Runyon said, would become “doubly important” as the city looks to develop the Teays Branch area currently accessible only by the fastest portion of Ky. 40. Already, the Haas eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute has added to traffic at the Teays Branch intersection, and Runyon said the city is still considering construction of a new multi-purpose building and possible recreation center in the area, if funding could be secured.
If the road no longer functions as a nearly intersection-free bypass alternative of the Mayo Trail, the speed limits would then have to come down, Runyon said.
Paintsville Police Chief Mike Roe said the fast stretch of Ky. 40 is “still dangerous,” and explained that in his experience, driver inattention is indeed one of the biggest sole culprits behind traffic collisions.
“You’ve just got to pay attention,” Roe said.