Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 25, 2013

House keeps getting hit

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — EMPIRE — Pat Alonzi has a problem with cars hitting her house.

Every year her Empire Township house and business, Sunset Glen Resorts, is damaged by a wayward vehicle running through a three-road intersection at the south end of Glen Lake. Three cars since December alone have crashed into her home.

Alonzi managed to sleep through the most recent crash on Aug. 16 when a Ford Taurus traveling the wrong way on MacFarlane Road missed the stop sign at M-22 and ran through her lawn, knocked over her shrubs and scraped her house before it launched off a 12-foot retaining wall. The driver managed to run away from the crash and Leelanau County sheriff's deputies, who believe he was a drunken 28-year-old Traverse City man, still seek his arrest.

"One of these times somebody's going to get really hurt," Alonzi said. "I'm at my wit's end."

Leelanau County and Michigan Department of Transportation authorities made several changes over the years at the intersection of M-22 and county roads 616 and 677 to stop vehicles from straying off the roadways and into private property. These changes were made after a loaded gravel truck in 2004 flew down the steep hill on County Road 677 leading into the intersection, couldn't stop and plowed through Alonzi's property, barely missing construction workers building her new home.

Jim Johnson, engineer and manager of the Leelanau County Road Commission, said larger signs were installed at the top of a steep hill headed into the intersection and a ban was placed on through trucks.

"I think that’s been helping," he said, but he pointed out the most recent crash involved a drunken driver who drove from County Road 616 at the other end of the intersection.

"There's not a universal answer ... That's what we're struggling with," he said.

But Alonzi and her next-door neighbor Mary DeWitt believe the road commission could do more. DeWitt lives farther from the intersection than Alonzi and never had a vehicle so much as hit her mailbox until December when a car lost control on the slick road and sailed into her dining room.

"This (was) the first time my house had been hit, even when it was a cottage previously," she said. "I wouldn't have bought it otherwise."

DeWitt said the repairs to her house took six months and estimated the cost at $50,000. She believes the road commission should install flashers and rumble strips to warn drivers.

"We can't get a definite answer or a time frame," she said. "Saying you're 'looking into it' isn't a definite answer."

Johnson said the road commission needed more data to show rumble strips and flashers might reduce crashes at the intersection, noting they can easily be ignored or draw complaints from nearby property owners. He said one fix might be rerouting the road so County Road 677 and M-22 line up, but officials in the past balked at the prospect of a costly road construction project.

"If we do something, we want it to be effective and not just a showpiece," he said.