ARLINGTON -- Every day drivers pull into the center turn lane on a northern section of Cooper Street and wait for an opening in oncoming traffic to turn left into a restaurant or shopping center parking lot.
Too often, city and state officials say, drivers misjudge when to make that unprotected turn across the multiple lanes of on-coming traffic. Sometimes that timing mistake is deadly.
At the request of the city, the Texas Department of Transportation will extend the raised medians along Cooper Street farther north of Arkansas Lane to regulate where vehicles can make left turns across oncoming traffic.
"There's a very good reason to have them there," said TXDOT spokesman Val Lopez, adding that traffic studies have shown raised medians reduce head-on crash rates by about 40 percent. "It makes traffic more predictable, and that means fewer collisions."
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The raised medians, part of a $8.8 million improvement project the state expects to bid in September, will replace the continuous left-turn lane on Cooper Street between Arkansas Lane and Mitchell Street.
TXDOT also plans to resurface the 1.45-mile section of state highway with skid-resistant asphalt as well as build sidewalks, ramps and driveways that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act on both sides of the road from Mitchell Street south to Interstate 20.
The raised medians already stretch from Arkansas Lane to the southern city limits, a project completed by TXDOT in 2007. That project was initiated after more than 1,000 head-on collisions were reported in a five-year period along that stretch of the state highway.
From January 1999 to September 2004, the center turn lane was linked to 544 crashes on Cooper Street north of Interstate 20, according to Star-Telegram archives. Another 580 similar crashes were reported south of Interstate 20 from Bardin Road to the southern city limits near U.S. 287 during that same time period, a transportation study found.
"The majority were head-on collisions. Those are the most serious kind," Lopez said. "There was a clearly a need to regulate traffic in a more organized way."
In 2010, Arlington asked the state to extend the medians north of Arkansas Lane. Public Works and Transportation Director Keith Melton called it "a much-needed project" when updating Arlington City Council on the planned improvements last week.
"The section of Cooper north of 303 has had several fatalities. This will hopefully improve that situation," Melton said.
Developer Mojy Haddad said he has concerns that the medians, which will reduce the number of left-hand turns, could negatively impact existing businesses by making it harder for customers to visit. "When I look at a property, the first thing I look at is access. That is a huge deal for developers and people who want to put a business in a shopping center."
Haddad said he has seen businesses in Southlake and along South Cooper Street fail after the state put in raised medians that limited access to their locations.
"I have concerns over safety, too, but we have to figure out a way not to drive businesses out of the area," said Haddad, adding that the medians aren't tall enough to stop a vehicle from accidentally crossing into oncoming traffic. "A lot of businesses will go dark because they don't have a left turn. People are just going to keep moving forward, and they won't turn into your development."
TXDOT has heard similar concerns from business owners in the past, Lopez said, but the agency's obligation lies with improving safety.
The $8.8 million project includes the city's anticipated $1.5 million contribution for the construction of sidewalks and drive approaches.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578