On the morning of Thursday, March 28, the Berlin Police Department and emergency officials responded to an accident at the intersection of Route 30 and Franklin Avenue, in front of the Wawa and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Two passengers were transferred to Cooper Hospital, according to a release by the Berlin Police Department. Both were reportedly in stable condition shortly following the accident.
Councilman Jim Pearce took to action that night, with help from Councilman Rick Miller, in hopes of creating change at the intersection as quickly as possible. Residents over the years, according to Pearce, have persistently made officials aware that making a left going both north and south along Route 30, especially during the mornings, is more than troublesome.
Pearce says many Berlin Borough residents have started and shared Change.org petitions in the past, with one resident having started one a few years ago that would lead to the preservation of the Simone Farm. He liked the idea of residents getting behind the cause, with the petitions being an easy way to show the community wants change or action about a specific topic.
After many residents reached out to Pearce and other elected officials, the two started a petition with Change.org and shared it online through Facebook, explaining the incident and the need for a change as to how traffic approaches and turns at the intersection along the White Horse Pike.
“The last time we had one of these petitions involving us, it really spurred us to action” Pearce said. “So maybe we can spur the state to action.”
Initially, Pearce says he wasn’t sure what type of a response to expect and didn’t have a set goal for the number of people to sign the petition; however, when he woke up the following morning, the community had already gotten behind the cause.
“My phone was nothing but text messages, there was stuff all over Facebook, I had missed calls.” Pearce said. “It just started ballooning from their and it’s just continued.”
Although Berlin Borough officials would love to create a solution to the intersection, it combines both state and county roads, requiring approval from both to enact a potential solution.
Despite the potential roadblocks ahead, borough officials insist they plan to continue to push for such a change over the course of the next few weeks and months, due to startling statistics.
According to statistics provided by Chief Millard Wilkinson of the Berlin Police Department, the intersection of Route 30 and Franklin Avenue has seen 254 vehicles involved in 123 crash reports in-between April, 16 2014, and the March 28 crash of this year.
On average, the intersection will see 24 crashes in a year, with one crash coming every 14 days. Fortunately, over the past five years, Wilkinson reports there have been no fatalities at that intersection.
Wilkinson, along with other borough officials, hope to see a change made before one makes headlines.
“When you’re making a left and there’s a car coming at you making a left from the other direction, it’s sometimes hard to see the traffic traveling to the right of whatever vehicle is facing you. It’s hard to see.”
Wilkinson knows the intersection is dangerous, and even advises his wife and others to be extra cautious when attempting to make a left at the light.
“I tell my wife, just wait there until you get the red light,” Wilkinson said. “People will probably beep, but at least you know you’re not going to pull into somebody.”
Councilman Dan MacDonnell, chairman for public works, streets and roads, discussed the process of a hopeful change to the intersection to make it safer for drivers, which would have to come from the state level.
“Route 30 is obviously NJDoT, the state highway, and Franklin Avenue is basically a county road – so we don’t have ownership of any of the right of ways there.” MacDonnell said.
After hearing about the petition, MacDonnell reached out to Pearce and others and got data regarding the volume of crashes that have occurred at the intersection over the past five years and reached out to Camden County.
He spoke with Camden County Engineer Kevin Cecica, who, according to MacDonnell, had heard of the accident before MacDonnell reached out, and is fully supportive of finding a solution to the intersection.
MacDonnell then wrote a letter, on behalf of Berlin Borough, to be sent to the state Department of Transportation Commissioner’s Office, that included crash data on each accident over the past five years, with help from Wilkinson.
The petition on Change.org, which at the time of this article has more than 2,800 signatures, was also included, alongside a letter from Camden County supporting setting up a meeting to address the problems at the intersection. The engineer’s office confirmed that a letter has been sent in support of setting up a meeting to alleviate problems at the intersection.
Additionally, Assemblyman Joe Howarth also reached out to MacDonnell to assist in the process. MacDonnell provided Howarth’s office with the same documents to request a meeting, on behalf of the borough, with the state regarding the intersection as well.
At the time of this article, the borough was waiting to hear back from Trenton regarding a decision on a meeting.
“It’s NJDOT that has to make the engineering decision of how will that intersection be improved, what that looks like, and they are also the ones that have to go out and implement that,” MacDonnell said.
Fortunately, MacDonnell says Berlin Borough has a “coalition of support” from all forms of government behind the movement to make the intersection safer .
For Pearce, the accident at the end of March is an all too familiar feeling from a dark moment in his past many years ago.
When Pearce was 18 years old, he learned from police officers his sister and brother-in-law were killed in a traffic accident along Route 42 in Monroe Township. Pearce’s sister was five months pregnant.
The two were driving along the state road when a car cut across the road to pass over a median strip, something that Pearce says the state knew had caused fatal accidents previously. Pearce’s sister and brother-in-law were killed instantly.
“We couldn’t understand how the state could know about a defect in a road, because they weren’t the first and they weren’t the last, and not do anything,” Pearce said. “After several more fatalities in that exact area, the state finally closed up all those median strips on Route 42.”
Pearce and Wilkinson say the intersection has been the scene of fatalities prior to the past five years, however they are unable to pull exact information. Regardless, the borough hopes to see a change made before the next one.
“It just seem to me like we’re waiting, but I don’t know for what. Every day is another chance for someone to be injured there. I’m hoping the state does the right thing,” Pearce said.
Included in the documents sent to the state DOT was the assertion the left-hand turn motion is what needs to be rectified, according to MacDonnell and Pearce. MacDonnell says in speaking with Wilkinson, such a solution would expect to alleviate the volume of crashes.
However, the borough is unsure what that exact solution would be, whether it is a left turns only lane, or alternating cycles to turn left. However, if change is expected to be made, it will have to come after a state investigation and study of the intersection.
“Right now, we’re averaging an accident every 14 days. So every month that DOT doesn’t provide a solution, we’re statistically going to have two major accidents,” MacDonnell said. “I don’t want to have any more accidents, so I’m going to be pushing for something to be done right away.”