Residents unhappy with lack of change at dangerous intersection

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COLUMBIA - Columbia native Leon Schmidt has an interesting daily routine with his neighbor Frances Edwards. 

"We talk about different things and we observe what's going on around us and it's a busy neighborhood out here," he said. "There's a lot of things happening."

One of the things "happening" in his neighborhood involves metal-on-metal contact, sounds of tires shrieking to a halt, and sometimes even sirens.

Schmidt, who is in his 70s, has lived for nearly 30 years in the Vandiver Mobile Home Park at the intersection of Parker Street and Vandiver Drive, which is a busy commuter route featuring multiple curves, hills and few stop signs.

Schmidt frequently sits on Edwards' porch watching the traffic.  

That's because the intersection, which is down the street from Joe Machen's Toyota, is one of Columbia's "most dangerous," according to crash data.

A Columbia Police Department dispatch report from Oct. 1, 2013 to Oct. 1, 2014 shows eight reports of accidents at the corner of Vandiver and Parker. Another report detailed a dispatch for careless driving at the intersection.

"Back in 2010, the city council asked us to take a look at it and we looked at the traffic volumes and we looked at the collisions and everything that was going on with that intersection," Columbia Transportation Manager Scott Bitterman said. "What we recommended to improve that location would be a roundabout."

Schmidt said he doesn't care what gets done, but something has to happen.

"Either get a little better traffic control out here, or a stoplight of some sort put in here even if it's a blinking type thing," he said.

Other dangerous intersections include North Fairview Road and Ash Street and the one at West Nifong Boulevard and Sinclair Road, BItterman said. The intersection at Fairview and Ash is the only one of three that has a traffic signal.

Four years after the city council initially looked at the Vandiver-Parker intersection, it remains without any traffic control other than two opposing stop signs on Parker St. The city's reason for inaction - no funds.

"There's only so many projects we can do and we have over $200 million worth of unfunded projects in the Capital Improvement Plan," Ward Two Councilman Michael Trapp said. "When we come to the voters for the 1 percent capital improvement tax, we'll only be able to do about a third of the projects that we've identified as important need for the city."

Trapp said he pushed for his ward, which covers the majority of northwest Columbia including Vandiver and Parker, to have some sort of signal constructed.

"When I was elected, I identified 14 things that I'd like to see accomplished and that was in my list of my top ten," he said. "If we take a stoplight out of service then we'll reassign it to another place and so I did try to get Vandiver and Parker in the list."

The accident data showed Ash and Fairview was a more dangerous intersection, Trapp said. "I had to support that even though this is in the second ward."

Voters will have their chance to pass the measure next August, but Schmidt, his neighbors, or motorists may not see a change to the area for quite some time.

"We currently have that as a CIP project that could be funded within the next ten years," Bitterman said. "It could potentially be a 2018 project."

Trapp said if the tax doesn't pass, it could cause problems for the city.

"If the capital improvement tax doesn't pass that puts us in a real tough situation because that is the bulk of the money that we get for new road construction," he said. "We have a development fee tax on the November ballot, so that will ease some of the pressure, but the bulk of the money we're still looking at the capital improvement tax."

Schmidt said he not only sees accidents often, but hears them too. 

"I live the next trailer north of here and I can hear the impact of accidents from my home," he said.

He's not just concerned about motorists. 

"There's a lot of foot traffic that goes up and down Vandiver and up and down Parker Street," he said. 

Bitterman said while there is limited traffic control in place, drivers should take caution on the winding and hilly Vandiver and remain attentive while at the wheel.