Crashes on Highway 63 drawing state attention, safety work being done

Updated: Aug. 30, 2020 at 11:03 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE COUNTY, Ark. (KAIT) - Highway 63 has seen its fair share of crashes.

In 2020 alone, Region 8 News reported two bus crashes and another in late June that took the life of a Jonesboro Police officer.

Mark Erwin’s son was a student on the bus crash in late February.

“About 8:20-8:30 a.m., I got a phone call, my son says, ‘Dad, we’ve been in a wreck, but, you know, a semi turned in front of us’,” Erwin said.

The bus was headed to Jonesboro High School for a vocational class.

The crash sent six people to the hospital with neck, back, and knee injuries.

The crash happened off of Highway 63 in Bono, but wasn’t nearly as bad as the bus crash just a month prior on the same stretch of highway.

Multiple vehicles were involved in that crash, including a dump truck.

The bus flipped over in a ditch, and nine people were hurt.

A deep dive into the volume of crashes along Highway 63 shined a light on the magnitude of people killed along that section of highway in Lawrence County, between January 2016-June 21, 2020.

According to records, Lawrence County had double the number of fatalities, when compared to Craighead, Greene, and Sharp counties.

Number of fatalities by county between January 2016 to June 21, 2020:

  • Lawrence County = 22
  • Sharp County = 11
  • Craighead County = 9
  • Greene County = 1

“It’s very concerning,” Major Jason Aaron, Arkansas State Police Eastern Region Division Commander, said. “It’s something we have been monitoring, not just specific to Northeast Arkansas, but on a statewide [level]. So that’s what led us to look at these areas and try to come up with a common denominator, and there’s not a silver bullet out there.”

Major Aaron said it’s not that troopers aren’t out there working.

According to ASP, overall crashes are down across the state, but the fatality rate has gone up.

It’s a trend ASP officials said they do not want to see.

“[I] get here every morning at 7 o’clock, and we see that fatality count email come across in the morning,” Major Aaron said. “It’s like ‘What can we do to stop it?’”

Those same trends also caught the attention of ArDOT District 10 Engineer Brad Smithee.

“It seemed like, at least, an increased number of cross-centerline crashes where someone departed their lane and went across even the medians,” Smithee said.

Following an ArDOT study into the safety of Highway 63, two pavement preservation projects are now on the books.

Phase 1 is already underway on Highway 63, from Bono Hill to the Lawrence County line.

Phase 2 is set for January 2021, where work will start at the Lawrence County line and go all the way to Ravenden.

Both projects include added safety features, including a centerline rumble stripe.

“Instead of those rumble strips being about a foot wide, a rumble stripe is only about four inches wide, and it’s in the yellow line, and it’s painted,” Smithee said.

He said the added safety feature increases visibility, especially in rain, and also gets the driver’s attention if they start to cross the centerline.

As for Erwin, he believes it will help and said he’s glad to see that something is being done.

The two pavement preservation projects on that stretch of Highway 63 add up to right around 35 miles.

Smithee said the highway improvements are possible, thanks to the (STIP) Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

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