Imagine yourself driving the speed limit, 45 mph, down a two-lane mostly rural highway, with fairly narrow lanes, a 3-foot shoulder to your right and a 6-inch drop-off after that. You are heading into a downhill curve. Behind you, a speeder is closing in on your rear bumper, urging you to drive faster.
Then, coming at you from around the curve in the opposite lane you see a huge dump truck, also traveling a bit faster than the 45 mph speed limit, while filling up its entire lane and crowding the center line as it navigates the curve toward you. You will not be able to stop easily and you will not be able to move over very far to the right.
That scenario can be a very tricky situation for relatively inexperienced drivers such as teens and nervous drivers not accustomed to such potential danger. But who’s to blame? Is it the road or the drivers of the dump truck and the car behind you?
Getting to know Route DD
Route DD is a mostly narrow road with one lane for each direction of travel that traverses St. Charles County and the city of O’Fallon. It runs south and west from I-64 in O’Fallon, terminating at Route 94 [Hwy. 94] near Defiance, a total of about 9.5 miles. About halfway, Route DD crosses Route D. With its two-letter designation assigned in the 1950s, Route DD originally was intended as a farm-to-market road or minor branch route, connecting to larger state and federal highways such as Route D, Route 94, and U.S. Highway 40 [now I-64].
Today, its length includes at the north/east end a movie theater and soccer park, and at the south/west end a quarry for stone, aggregate and concrete. In between are numerous large subdivisions, landscape nurseries, horse stables, Discovery Ridge Elementary School [1,000-plus students], Frontier Middle School [1,100-plus students], O’Fallon’s O’Day Park and St. Charles County’s Broemmelsiek Park. All were built well after the road was designed.
Route DD also serves as a connector for travelers from O’Fallon and other nearby communities to Augusta Wine Country, adding weekend and summer traffic to the road, including drivers who have consumed adult beverages.
Per the Missouri State Highway Patrol [MSHP] traffic crash map system, in the 10 years from 2004-2013, Route DD was the site of 13 crashes and 17 injuries, an average of 1.3 crashes per year. In the five years from 2014 through 2018 there were 11 vehicular crashes that injured 19 people on Route DD, an average of 2.2 crashes per year. While crash data from 2019 has not yet been completely loaded into the MSHP database, so far four crashes with eight people injured have been recorded. Each of those crashes took place between Diehr Road and I-64, the northern part of Route DD where the speed limit is 45 mph.
Examining all of the crashes for the 2004-2019 time period, most were on Route DD north between Route D and I-64. Several were rollovers and several involved juveniles.
O’Fallon Police Department Public Information Officer Anthony Michalka provided statistics, tracked from crashes handled by O’Fallon, that indicated five crashes in 2017, one in 2018 and three in 2019. None of those crashes involved fatalities. O’Fallon’s statistics corroborate data in the MSHP crash map.
Vehicles driven on Route DD include a diverse mixture of passenger cars, sports cars, large and small SUVs, motorcycles, large and small pickup trucks, dump trucks, quarry trucks, construction vehicles, utility trucks, commercial trucks, horse trailers, fire trucks, ambulances, and school buses. In additional to vehicles, the road is crossed frequently and at unpredictable times by deer, coyotes, turtles, raccoons, opossums, armadillos and other critters.
Andy Tuerck, St. Charles County area engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT], provided statistics indicating that Route DD’s current average daily traffic is 9,450 vehicles, with 4,538 traveling southbound and 4,912 traveling northbound. Morning peak hour volumes are 718 southbound and 358 northbound. Afternoon/evening peak hour volumes are 367 southbound and 818 northbound. As new subdivisions currently in-progress along and just off Route DD and new residents become active, those numbers are expected to grow rapidly.
Route DD runs through a mixture of rural, semi-rural and semi-suburban areas but is still a “country road” that many contend is being used well above its intended capacity and capability.
Residents call the roadway ‘deadly’
Proponents of changes along Route DD deem the road as “deadly” and suggest that to help avoid an increasing number of crashes and injuries, many additional speed limit signs are needed, and drivers must obey those speed limits as well drive more prudently based on the geography of the road. Speed limits must be better enforced, they say. But whose responsibility is Route DD?
“MoDOT has jurisdiction over maintenance of state Route DD,” Tuerck said. “Our local partners at St. Charles County and its municipalities routinely contribute funding to sponsor desired upgrades of the state highway system beyond the funding levels MoDOT is able to contribute. Example: The city of O’Fallon permit project in 2019 to add traffic signal and turn-lane additions at the Route DD/Sommers Road intersection.”
Tuerck also confirmed, “MoDOT has jurisdiction over setting speed limits on DD since it is a state route.” Therefore, MoDOT is responsible for installing speed limit signs. He clarified that the MSHP, the St. Charles County Police Department and the O’Fallon Police Deppartment “all could provide speed limit enforcement within their jurisdictional limits of Route DD.”
Michalka agreed, saying that any of the three law enforcement organizations could take the lead on a crash response, based on jurisdiction and who is available to handle a response at a given time.
Kim Ryba, owner and operator of Stonebridge Stables on Route DD, said she has offered her two-lane driveway entrance to local law enforcement to set up speed-monitoring radar and pull over speeders. She said she also has “asked for police to be more proactive just after schools let out in the afternoon, when there are two or three teen drivers most weekdays who can been seen driving what appears to be in excess of 90 to 100 mph on DD where the road is relatively flat and straight for about a half mile.” Ryba said she has even told police the color of those speeding vehicles.
She said she “gets along well with the police, but that enforcement has not yet been done; you only see them when there is an accident.”
Resident Elaine Olle and her husband, John, have “lived on Route DD since 1991” and have “watched the growth of homes and resulting traffic.” She said each of her three children, now all grown, attended local schools and rode school buses. Each one of the three “witnessed separate fatal accident scenes while riding the bus, having to wait on the bus for hours, without a bathroom, until the accident was cleared and the body bags were loaded into ambulances.” She mentioned when interviewed that one notorious stretch of DD is known as “Death Hill.”
Olle also said she has offered her driveway for police to use for radar enforcement of speed limits and for pulling speeders off the road. She, too, said that enforcement has not yet occurred.
Ryba has paid for and posted two signs on fences along the east side of Route DD, on private property, stating: “DEADLY DD. SPEED LIMIT 45. SLOW DOWN.” She quotes the county as saying: “Take down the signs, or we will take you to court.” She said she told them to take her
to court.” The signs still are there.
Toward the southern end of Route DD, but north of Route D, Beth Korenak owns and operates Irish Fox Stables. She said that while the speed limit there is 50 mph [no speed limit sign can be seen anywhere near her property], “most drivers seem to be going 60 to 65 mph.”
Korenak said she frequently needs to pull horse trailers on the local roads, and “it does not help when other drivers speed and tailgate, making it dangerous for everyone.” She referred to one part of the road as “dead man’s curve.”
But she also said she knows “the police do the best they can, because they have a lot of territory to cover and do not have a lot of staff, so it is difficult to enforce the speed limits.” She added, “There are not very many places for the police to pull speeders off the road.”
Korenak said she appreciates what MoDOT has done to improve many sections of the road with slightly wider shoulders, and their installation of “rumble strips” in the middle of the road and on the shoulders to warn drivers about lane departures. She said it is “unnerving to have an oncoming car or truck driving on the middle line and you do not have any shoulder where you can move out of the way.”
According to Tuerck, recent MoDOT projects to improve DD have included:
• Three-foot shoulder widening and asphalt overlay in 2011-2012.
• Three-foot shoulder widening and asphalt overlay between MO-94 and Route D in 2015.
• Multiple asphalt resurfacings from 2000-2019, with the most recent being from MO-94 to I-64.
• A new traffic signal and turn-lane additions at DD and Sommers Road, constructed by the city of O’Fallon in 2019.
Tuerck said, “O’Fallon, St. Charles County and MoDOT will cost share a project to improve/widen Route DD by Caledonia Parkway to I-64 to accommodate the growth [in that area]” in the near future [2020/2021].
In addition to the Streets of Caledonia development [and the need for Caledonia Parkway], Route DD services the enormous Wyndgate subdivision, about two miles south of I-64 off of Diehr Road, where the developer now is opening even more new plats with more homes. Other developers such as Lombardo have cleared huge parcels of ground along Diehr Road for even more residential homes. Most of the traffic from those new homes will be added to existing Route DD traffic volume during the next two years, with some going farther west to Hopewell Road before connecting to Route N or Lake St. Louis Boulevard.
Local officials say ‘not so fast’
“A crash report review for Route DD shows that the most recent fatal crash occurred a decade ago in February 2010 near the MO-94 intersection, and the most recent “serious injury accident was in the spring of 2017,” Tuerck said. “Though traffic volumes have been increasing with population growth along Route DD over the last decade, the crash rate for this section has been actually decreasing overall.
“Starting in 2011, systematic safety improvements such as 3-foot shoulders, rumble strips and guardrail improvements were implemented on Route DD. Because of these safety improvements, Route DD has experienced over a 50% drop in crash rate between 2010 and 2018. The latest crash rate for Route DD is actually slightly lower than the statewide average for this type of roadway. As always, we’re open to discussing topics further with the public when they reach out with safety concerns.”
Lt. Collin M. Stosberg, of the public information and education division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said: “Historically, state lettered roadways and state numbered roadways are the most dangerous due to several factors. They are typically narrower, with hills and curves. They have less green space to slow down prior to striking an object when a harmful event occurs.
“As you know driver error is the cause in almost 96% of all traffic crashes. We encourage all motorists to pay attention, obey the speed limit, drive at speeds that are appropriate for the driving conditions, drive sober and always wear your seatbelt. This [accidents on Route DD] seems to be an issue with people not paying attention to the total job of driving.”
Stosberg stressed that roadways do not contribute to the crash. “It’s people not doing their job of driving,” he said. “It’s the driver that is not paying attention, driving too fast for the conditions, speeding, driving impaired and not wearing the seatbelt that result in injury.
“We have a zero tolerance on all of those matters.”
O’Fallon Police Chief Tim Clothier added: “Examining the data pertaining to vehicle crashes on Route DD, that fall within jurisdictional boundaries of O’Fallon, has revealed the O’Fallon Police Department has written nine traffic crash reports in the last three years for the area; which is less than 1% of all crashes in the city of O’Fallon.
“We can’t speculate on the nature of the entire state highway; however, based on the recent data, I would say the term ‘Deadly DD’ is unwarranted for the portion of the highway that is within the city of O’Fallon.”