ST. GEORGE — If driving in Washington County feels even more white-knuckled than before, it is. There’s been an increase in severe traffic crashes and fatalities over the past five years countywide.

Project team member Nicole Waldheim leads a breakout group discussion at a Safety Subcommittee meeting for the Five Counties Association of Governments, St. George, Utah, Oct. 19, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Sharice Walker, St. George News

A community survey to help reduce traffic fatalities and severe injuries has launched and local leaders are asking for input. The online survey is for residents to share their concerns and experiences with the transportation system in Washington County  and is open through Nov. 30.

Nicholas C. Gayer, transportation planner with the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization, told St. George News that there’s been a shift over the past five years in traffic trends leading to more severe crashes.

In response to this increase, the Council of Governments approved the goal of reducing fatalities and severe injury crashes with a safety-action plan and survey. 

“The goal of the 5% reduction in roadway fatalities and serious injuries is a response to not only the historical trends of accidents over the past 10 years, but it’s also a response to the more recent years post the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gayer said. “So the 5% reduction commitment is meant to combat old as well as new trends in severe crashes.”

The Council of Governments includes elected officials from each municipality in Washington County that unanimously approved the goal. Gayer noted the Washington County Commissioners also approved a resolution supporting the measure. 

The Five Counties Association of Government received a federal grant to administer and create a Safety Action Plan under the Safe Streets for All program. Gayer said the organization will coordinate with the associated safety committees to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the county.

Gayer added that severe crashes, including fatalities and serious injuries, have increased by 68% in the county since 2019. Yet, he said that amount makes up a small percentage of total crashes. Gayer said the increase in severe and fatal crashes in the county is consistent with recent national trends.

Project team member Jack Henneman leads a breakout group discussion at the Safety Subcommittee meeting for the Five County Association of Governments, St. George, Utah, Oct. 19, 2023 ” Photo courtesy of Sharice Walker, St. George News

The survey will help civic leaders with the creation of the safety action plan. The plan will analyze existing conditions and historical trends of crashes over the last 10 years. Gayer said the survey will help them engage with community members about transportation safety concerns.

He added they will also develop safety strategies and prioritize solutions for the greatest needs in the county. 

“Public awareness and education will be at the forefront of achieving these safety goals,” Gayer said.

Currently, the Safety Survey on the Dixie MPO website is live and already receiving feedback. Gayer said their goal is to obtain 2000 responses from within Washington County to have a clear understanding safety needs from a public perspective.

Sharice Walker, from Avenue Consultants, also works with the Five County Association of Governments on the project.

She said they will have tables at various businesses and grocery stores seeking input from community members about their experiences and concerns with the transportation system.

“Currently, the purpose of our table events is to encourage people to do the survey. It is the most effective tool we have for collecting input from our community and incorporating it into our data analysis,” Walker said. “There is a QR code for people to do it on their own phone. We have a couple of tablets at the events to complete the survey online, and we have printed surveys in English and Spanish available at the table if people prefer to complete the survey on paper.”

Project Manager Nicholas Gayer said the Five County Association of Governments have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study how to prevent serious injuries and fatalities on roadways, St. George, Utah, May 18, 2023 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News

Walker added as they move through the process, they will be sharing additional information on the Dixie MPO website and through email updates. She said she expects in early 2024, they will have more community events to share information about the recommended safety strategies.

Individuals interested in staying current on the plan’s progress can sign up to receive email updates at the end of the survey or by sending a request here.

Gayer said once the plan is completed, it can be used to apply for additional federal grants to implement the identified strategies or other transportation safety-related funding opportunities.

Gayer said the U.S. Department of Transportation funds communities that prioritize safety. As a part of that program, the Five Counties Association of Governments was awarded the Safe Streets for All Action Plan. He said this will help local agencies to:

Promote walking, biking and transit. 
Advance racial and health equity.
Manage speeds for safety.
Make systemic change based on the Safe System approach.
Demonstrate designs and activities. 

Gayer added that the draft plan will be released in early February for review with a final version expected to be completed in June.

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