HALE – An upcoming roadway project on M-65 in Plainfield Township will work towards keeping carriage and farm equipment travel safer, according law enforcement and county officials.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has announced it will be doing an extensive resurfacing project on both M-65 and M-55 in the county next year.
“The project will include widening of the paved portion of the shoulders on M-65 from M-55 northerly to Hale, which we anticipate will enhance safety for all road users through mitigation of run-off-road crashes and mitigation of crashes involving non-motorized traffic,” said North Region MDOT Operations Manager Garrett Dawe, in an email.
Iosco County Commissioner Charles Finley said the new construction, along with increased enforcement of the speed limit in the area, will lead to extra safety for members of Iosco County’s Amish community and farming community. Both groups traverse the busy highway with both horse and carriage and slow-moving vehicles that are vulnerable to speeding traffic.
The improvement is too late, however for members of the Amish community in Hale and Whittemore who, along with the community, mourned the death of a friend and neighbor, Owen Hostetler, 37, who passed away as the result of his injuries sustained in an August crash.
Hostetler and and his wife, Laura Hostetler, 42, both received incapacitating injuries after a vehicle collided with their horse-drawn carriage on M-65 in Reno Township. Also receiving injures were their seven children, ranging from ages one to 14.
Owen Hostetler received brain injuries as a result of the crash and was in a coma and passed away in the hospital last week. A funeral ceremony and memorial service were conducted Thursday at the Hostetler home off Old State Road.
County officials and law enforcement have been concerned with the stretch of M-65, which was given an increased speed limit of 65 miles per hour several years ago after a change in law. Finley and Deputy Matthew Klosowski-Lorenz said that the increased speed limit, and drivers not paying attention on the roadway have led to several crashes which have resulted in death over the past year.
MDOT, which has conducted speed studies on the stretch of highway, has not lowered the speed limit and Finley and board Vice Chairman Jay O’Farrell have asked that mitigation efforts, such as speed enforcement signs, be included on the highway.
Recently Klosowski-Lorenz, who runs the county road patrol, has been conducting enforcement and strict speed limit enforcement in the area. Finley reached out to Iosco County Road Commissioner Engineer/Manager Bruce Bolen about signage in the area. Now the road commission has lent the use of electronic speed enforcement signs in the area. Along with the signs, and increased patrols, the county and sheriff department are calling it Project STAR (Strategic Traffic Accident Reduction), in an effort to make the area safer for carriages and tractors.
Finley said in his talks with Bolen about including the signs on the highway, Bolen told him that MDOT was planning a project to widen the roadway shoulders.
“So I asked MDOT to see if they can do something as far as a carriage path, and never really got an answer from them, so what I did from there I took it to one step further and contacted 106th District State Rep. Sue Allor’s office and her team got on board with it, and low and behold, we got a carriage lane,” Finley said.
Finley said that from his information the path will be on both sides of the highway from the M-55/M-65 intersection up to the town of Hale. He hopes that the change to the roadway, along with increased patrols from the county and the Michigan State Police, will help curb the potential for tragedies such as the one that the Hostetler Family has had to endure.
“A lot of it is too fast for conditions, and you look at the amount of wrecks it’s distracted driving,” Finley said. “We just need to pay more attention and I think we’re obligated as county commissioners, with whatever we can do to help out there, at least it’s something that we are aware of on an individual basis.”
Finley said the issue starts with education of the public and ownership that there is an issue.
“This is our county,” he said. “We want to make it safe for everyone, not just the Amish, but everyone that is up here.”
Klosowski-Lorenz said there has been an increase in carriage accidents in the roadway since the speed limit increase. He said that he believes the increased shoulders will have significant potential for reducing the amount of accidents but said that drivers being aware of their surroundings and not speeding, regardless of the new roadway feature, is needed.
He said it is important because passengers in carriages are extremely vulnerable to crashes because of the construction of the carriages, which are made from wood and a metal frame, unlike a motor automobile, which is designed to absorb the impacts of crashes and keep the passengers safe. Carriages are required to carry lights and the reflective “slow moving vehicle” triangle, however.
“There are no safety features in the construction of a carriage cab, it’s wood and screws completely,” said Klosowski-Lorenz. Likewise, farming equipment such as tractors offer few safety features in the event of crashes.
“My suggestion would be to treat carriages or farm vehicles like an ambulance or other emergency vehicle,” said Klosowski-Lorenz. “Slow down, and leave enough time so the drivers can see you so that so it’s not a drastic change, if you see a carriage in the distance, prepare for it.”
Klosowski-Lorenz said also there are more horse and carriage rigs operating in the area than residents may think. He said Amish residents have said there are at least 40 horse and carriage sets in the area, many traveling on M-65 every day to get places.
He said the drivers are vulnerable because the carriages travel slow and sometimes horses can be unpredictable, get spooked by something, and turn into the roadway in front of traffic. This is something they could even do with a carriage path in place.
Klosowski-Lorenz said the upshot of his increased traffic enforcement in the area is that all that have been pulled over speeding in the stretch of highway have not been Iosco County residents.
“I have not pulled over a single Iosco County resident,” he claimed. “It’s not our local residents who are speeding, but people from all over the area.”
Klosowski-Lorenz said a lot of the times people are extremely angry to get pulled over. Recently he ticked a person who was driving 91 miles per hour in the 65 miles per hour zone. The driver claimed that he needed to speed up to pass another vehicle. Klosowski-Lorenz said it is in fact illegal to exceed the speed limit to pass regardless.
“The response was almost anger like I’m sitting in a passing zone conducting a speed trap,” he said. “But I’m trying to protect the public.”