Residents complain Valpo intersection needs work
By James D. Wolf Jr. Post-Tribune correspondent June 21, 2013 1:32PM
Updated: June 22, 2013 4:49PM
VALPARAISO — Last year, the intersection of Harmel Drive and LaPorte Avenue had four reported accidents.
At the beginning of June — halfway through this year and before the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons — it’s almost doubled at seven.
Residents of Streamwood subdivision say this is a result of it getting harder to pull onto LaPorte from their 82-residence neighborhood to the south.
“The only time you can get out is very early in the morning,” said John Snurlein, who moved there about 16 years ago, before shopping centers proliferated to the east.
Terri Hendle said, “At Christmas, forget it — you can’t get out of here.”
The city began addressing the intersection’s problems after Streamwood residents came to the April 16 and May 21 Board of Zoning Appeals meetings to protest a pick-up window at The Tomato Bar. At the meetings, landlord Bruce Boyer agreed to make changes in the strip mall on Harmell’s east side, 2310 LaPorte.
The city has also been counting traffic over the last three weeks and is turning the data over to engineering firm DLZ because residents spoke out, City Engineer Tim Burkman said.
However, more than increasing traffic make the intersection difficult to navigate, according to the Streamwood residents.
The strip mall’s customers don’t realize there’s a subdivision to the south, and a landscaped “island” by the mall’s west exit blocks the view of oncoming subdivision traffic.
West of the intersection, the ambulance company’s sign and the traffic light’s utility box block the view of traffic, and to the east, two lanes suddenly become one before the blinking traffic signal.
During the school year, Valparaiso University students in apartments on Streamwood’s north side park along Harmel, restricting views.
Streamwood resident Val Urello said most of Streamwood’s residents are in their 50s to 70s and react less quickly.
City Council Member Bob Taylor said the slight hill and the curve in the LaPorte created problems when he tried to leave the subdivision after visiting the residents.
Taylor said after edging out enough to see coming traffic, he had to floor the pedal and drive straight across LaPorte to avoid being hit. He also wonders if the Sturdy Road roundabout’s regular traffic flow adds to Harmel’s problems.
Boyer has agreed to remove the larger evergreens near the mall’s west exit, and he plans to reconfigure traffic and parking around the mall. There’s no date set yet, he said.
Burkman said DLZ will consider the entire area when looking at traffic data and considering whether to make the blinking traffic signal a fully functional stop.
City officials at the BZA meetings said a traffic light could cause back ups at the roundabout at Sturdy, and there might not be enough traffic for changes yet.
The intersection wouldn’t make the city’s top 10 accident sites, which all had at least 15 accidents in 2012, Sgt. Mike Grennes of the Valparaiso Police Department said. However, Harmel is surrounded by three of the top five accident sites.
The roundabout at Sturdy and LaPorte and the stoplight at Silhavy Road and LaPorte each saw 26 accidents last year, tying for the third most accidents in the city.
LaPorte and Indiana 49, east of the Silhavy intersection, was the highest in 2012 with 53 reported accidents.
Burkman said most of the roundabout’s accidents are fender benders, not as serious as before the roundabout went in, but the reason for the high amount of accidents at these intersections is that more traffic means more accidents.
The possibility of a second exit for the subdivision isn’t likely. Connecting to Mayfield Avenue to the west would only move the problem there; building an exit to Martin Drive on the south would require demolishing homes, Bob Taylor said.
Going into the shopping centers means driving up a steep grade and would put traffic behind the Target store, and city officials at the BZA meetings said they have difficulty reaching Target officials to work things out.
However, residents hope Valparaiso can do something.
“It’s a great place to live, and we all like living here. But it’s making it difficult to get out,” Urello said.