Highway safety should be state budget priority
Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius was roundly condemned for her offhand remark during the campaign that she felt more threatened when driving on Missouri road than from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The remark was thoughtless in that it trivialized the horror of the attacks that killed 3,000 people or the possible catastrophic consequences of future attacks. But it is not out of place to suggest the average Kansan is much more at risk from harm while on highways than from the evil plotting of terrorists.
We learned last week that threat is likely to increase. It is not far fetched to predict state budget cuts will cost lives on state roads and Kansas Highway 10 in particular. The already-understaffed Kansas Highway Patrol saw its budget cut by $1 million and has eliminated its next two new trooper classes. The cuts come at a time when increasing traffic clogs the morning and evening rush hours on our local freeway. Law enforcement officers who regularly patrol the highway speak in awe of the speedway mentality that prevails on K-10.
Anybody who has logged many miles on K-10 has a story to tell of a close call or witnessed an accident. Speeds and road conditions are such that there is little room for error, but anything moving at less than 65 mph becomes a traffic hazard because of the prevailing speeds.
In the past, the Highway Patrol has put extra officers on duty on K-10 during shift changes in an attempt to enforce the highway's much-ignored 70-mph speed limit. But continued state budget cuts have forced the Kansas Highway Patrol to eliminate all overtime hours paid for from the state general fund. Local law enforcement has increased its efforts on K-10, but that reduces the amount of hours those officers can give to their duties patrolling road and streets in our community.
To date, education spending has dominated the debate over the state's budget crunch. But there are other legitimate concerns none more important than public safety.
Nothing does more to slow down traffic than the sight of a patrolman or patrolwoman writing a ticket. We would hope that they become less forgiving. We would also ask local legislators and the governor-elect to make putting more patrolmen and on the highways one of their priorities in the coming session.