OMRO, Wis. (WFRV) – 525 car crashes have occurred on Highway 21 in the last 10 years, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. In the last two weeks, there have been two fatal crashes.
“County-wide, we’ve had four fatal accidents in the last month,” Lt. Darin Rice of the Winnebago Co. Sheriff’s Office said. “We just want people to stay aware of their surroundings. Not only their vehicle but those around them. Distracted driving has become more and more of a problem.”
Those two most recent crashes on Highway 21 both involved drivers turning onto or off of the road.
“Both accidents involved vehicles turning from state highway 21, so that did play a part in both crashes and is the most common similarity between the two,” Rice said. “It’s a high-volume roadway. There’s a lot of traffic using State Highway 21. There’s probably a higher percentage of vehicular traffic than other roadways, so it increases the chances for accidents to occur.”
According to WisDOT, there have been seven fatal accidents on WIS 21 from Oakwood Dr. to the Winnebago County line in the last 10 years, and 126 involving injuries.
“It’s a high volume of fatal accidents in a very short time frame, more fatal accidents than we’ve seen in quite some time,” Rice said. “I know there’s discussion and planning for changes to Highway 21 in the future, [but] I don’t know if they’re going to expedite those changes based on the accidents we’ve seen.”
According to WisDOT’s website, there are plans for three roundabouts to be constructed at the Highway 21 intersections at County FF/Reighmoor Rd., Sand Pit Rd. and Leonard Point Rd., while Oakwood Rd. and Westhaven Dr. will receive left turn lanes. Construction for these projects is not expected to begin until at least 2027.
“Something’s got to change,” Oshkosh resident John Concepcion, who drives the road daily, said. He said that the best advice for travelers on Highway 21 is “just being vigilant and understanding what can happen on the road because you’re not guaranteed to come back unscathed.”
Shawn Pick is the owner of Skippy’s Garage, located off Highway 21, where both of the fatal accidents occurred nearby.
“[Safety on Highway 21] has always been a problem,” Pick said. “I think the speed needs to be slowed down a little bit, people need to be more observant and stay off their phones, and we need to get some roundabouts in to get people to slow down.”
Due to the ongoing investigations, Rice was not able to say whether speed or road design were factors in the accidents, but he did say that the roads are mostly safe when drivers follow the posted speed limit and are paying attention.
“Speeds are set based on extensive evaluation by traffic engineers. They consider all environmental factors and set the speed limits,” Rice said. “Just be cognizant of your surroundings, be aware of the oncoming traffic, do you have enough space, enough time to make a turn? And paying attention to the vehicle that is approaching the rear of your vehicle, not forgetting there is going to be other traffic heading in the same direction.”
Rice said that there is no timetable for the investigations and that they will likely take a while because crash reconstruction and recreation are being done. Any findings revealed from those studies could also lead to future proposed improvements, according to Rice.
Local 5’s Paul Steeno contributed to this report.