A Tulsa highway with no room for error

Friday, March 4th 2005, 10:22 am
By: News On 6

Funeral services were held Friday morning for a 19 year old woman killed on I-44 on Monday.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says the Oklahoma Highway Patrol says a four vehicle, head-on collision started with an unsafe lane change. The accident might not have been fatal - if some long planned improvements had been in place. The accident ripped apart two small cars that were westbound on I-44. When one of the drivers made a lane change, she bumped the other car.

Both crossed the median and hit trucks going east. The driver of the second car was seriously hurt. 19 year old Felicia Barger, driving the car that troopers say started the accident, was killed.

OHP trooper Lt Tom Montgomery: "Wasn't a high degree of speed involved, the speed limit through there is 60 miles an hour, we think the speed was right around that. The contributing factor on that crash was just inattentive driving and an unsafe lane change."

The accident came at a point in the highway where accidents are not uncommon, though it's a relatively straight stretch of road. It's often congested - and the OHP believes that's a factor in most of the accidents on I-44. Lt Montgomery: "They reduced the speed limit through there because of the heavy traffic and we're doing our best to try to enforce the speed laws through there."

Once an accident starts - there's no room to recover. I-44 between Yale and the river has no inside shoulder, and no median barrier between Lewis and Yale. Those safety features are part of the newly widened section of I-44 to the east of last Monday's accident. The lanes are wider, there's a concrete barrier, and stopping lanes on both sides.

On the older section - due for an upgrade - drivers must take their chances - and plenty do even darting from the access road into the highway at a point where accidents are not uncommon, and often severe.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says most of the accidents happen on I-44 on Mondays and Fridays - they believe when people are distracted by the start or end of the work week.

As for the improvements to the highway, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation told the News on 6 on Friday, they have no timetable for widening I-44 because they have no idea when they'll get the money to do it.