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Traffic light to be built at Billings intersection where teen was killed in a crash

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Posted at 3:23 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 19:46:27-05

BILLINGS — The intersection of Rimrock Road and Virginia Lane in Billings, where a teen was killed in a crash Tuesday, is scheduled to get a new traffic light this summer, said Erin Claunch, Billings city traffic engineer on Wednesday.

The intersection was identified to be improved as part of the city's ongoing process to prioritize various intersections for construction based on federal road standards. Design started to add a traffic light in October 2020, and Claunch said the city hopes to order the traffic light within the coming weeks.

“We look at crash data various other traffic data that we analyze and compare to some national standards that are put fourth by the federal government and that dictates which intersections are warranted for a traffic signal and which ones are not," Claunch said.

The traffic light addition to Virginia Lane and Rimrock Road has been in the works for months and is not in response to Tuesday's fatal crash.

A safety hazard for drivers is that vehicles looking to turn onto Rimrock Road from Virginia Lane are blind to eastbound Rimrock Road traffic due to a large fence outside a private home. The stop line at the intersection is an estimated three yards away from where drivers could actually see traffic moving eastbound on Rimrock Road.

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A vehicle waits to turn right from Virginia Lane onto Rimrock Road in Billings. Notice the location the vehicle is stopped in order to see around the fence on the west side of Virginia Lane.

A 17-year-old driver was killed in a crash on Tuesday while trying to navigate the largely blind intersection. The driver was trying to turn right from Virginia Lane onto Rimrock Road when her small vehicle was struck by an oncoming pickup truck.

As part of the intersection's study, engineers looked at traffic flow and accidents. Claunch said in the last three years, the intersection only saw two accidents. But that only accounts for accidents with police reports. The number of fender-bender accidents without police reports is likely higher.

“(Crashes are) something that we analyze and look at, but for whatever reason, the accident histories just weren’t as high as one might expect," Claunch said.

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Vehicles wait to turn onto Rimrock Road from Virginia Lane. Notice the stop line and where the front two cars are waiting.

The study of the intersection didn't account for the obstructed sight line for drivers on Virginia Lane, but it was taken into account in a roundabout way through the accident data, Claunch said.

Design started in October 2020 with engineers taking surveys and using computers to come up with the design. Claunch said he expects to have a contract for construction out for bid in May or June. Following the bid approval by the Billings City Council, construction of the traffic light could begin.

Claunch said the directions of travel on Virginia Lane and Rimrock Road won't change after the traffic light if put up.

According to the Billings Capital Improvement Plan, the traffic light has an estimated cost to construct of $500,000.

“We’re progressing as fast as we can with it. That accident last night is tragic. It’s unfortunate and we are going forward as fast as we can to get the signal poles ordered and delivered on time so the project will be constructed this summer," Claunch said.

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City sign labeling the intersection of Rimrock Road and Virginia Lane in Billings.

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