Accidents at Busy Miss. Intersection Create Safety Issue

September 6, 2007

Whenever truck driver Cameron White exits U.S. 78 onto McCullough Boulevard in Tupelo, Miss., he feels fear in the pit of his stomach.

White said the intersection is one of the most dangerous in the area. He holds his breath and prays that vehicles traveling from the highway onto McCullough will see him.

“When you exit the ramp, there is a blind spot that doesn’t allow you to clearly see what’s coming down the road,” White said. “Then when you go to get back onto 78 heading towards Memphis, you have to stop at a stop sign that is only about 10 feet away from the ramp. The whole thing is just awkward.

“I’ve dodged the accident bullet more than once there.”

Vanessa Dockery’s death July 31 at the intersection has raised new questions about its design and danger.

Dockery, of Blue Springs, wasn’t the accident’s only victim that day. James Norris Pharr, 65, of Sheffield, Ala., who was charged in her death, committed suicide Aug. 9 while home on bond. Pharr’s vehicle was exiting U.S. 78 when he ran the stop sign and hit Dockery’s car.

Statistics back up White’s gut feeling.

Since January, 13 accidents have been reported at the interchange, pacing well ahead of the 18 total in 2006 and the 12 in 2005.

The numbers show it’s a safety problem, says Waheed Uddin, a highway specialist and civil engineering professor at the University of Mississippi.

He knows from personal experience – he has driven through the intersection many times.

“This interchange is odd,” Uddin said.

Here’s his professional assessment:

– A normal intersection has traffic lights on the main and minor roads, and no overpass.

– This intersection does not have lights, but it has an overpass.

“A large accident volume” is how Uddin describes the 13 accidents there already this year.

The reason, according to Uddin: There is no good line of sight coming off the 78 exit ramp getting onto McCullough, so the person exiting the ramp from the east can’t see traffic coming from under the overpass on McCullough.

Tupelo Police Capt. Joe Cody also is concerned, noting the high volume of accidents at the interchange.

“Usually when we have one there, it’s pretty bad because of the speed,” he said.

Finding a solution doesn’t seem to be on the radar for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over the intersection.

Bill Jamieson, division head at MDOT’s Tupelo District, said there are no plans to rework the interchange. But if it is found to be a safety issue, he added, it’s possible changes can be made.

Uddin said more drastic measures should be taken.

“Someone from MDOT needs to initiate a road safety audit to see what can be done to make the area safer,” Uddin said. “This place needs attention. Safety for the traveler should be the main concern of everyone involved.”

Until changes are made, White said he will continue to use the interchange on his way to stops he makes on McCullough, but he will be wary when he enters and exits the highway.

“I do feel our highway department does a great job on our state road,” White said. “But I do feel this is a problem. I am nervous every time I have to get on and off that thing.”

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