Brownback wants KDOT to reopen study of installing cable barriers along K-10 from Lawrence to I-435

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has ordered the Kansas Department of Transportation to immediately reopen its study of cable barriers along Kansas Highway 10 in the wake of an April 16 double fatality crash.

Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson wrote a letter to Brownback last week asking him to direct KDOT to immediately install cable barriers along the divided highway from Lawrence east to Interstate 435.

“We’re pushing for cables, and we plan to keep this going,” said Ali Shutt, mother of 5-year-old Cainan Shutt, who was killed in the recent crash. “We’re very happy that at least we’ve gotten this.”

In his letter to KDOT Secretary Deb Miller, Brownback ordered her department to immediately begin designing the project to widen shoulders and add rumble strips along the Douglas County stretch of K-10, which has been done in Johnson County.

“While that may not have prevented this crash, it seems like a very important safety improvement. Please immediately begin designing these improvements so that the construction project can be completed by fall,” Brownback wrote in his letter sent to the media by KDOT on Monday. “Even if a decision is made later to install cable median barriers, it will take longer to accomplish that improvement than it will for this shoulder enhancement. So let’s get that going immediately.”

Cainan, a Eudora preschooler, and 24-year-old Ryan M. Pittman, both of Eudora, died in the crash when Pittman’s eastbound Toyota Camry crossed the grassy median near the Church Street interchange into the westbound lanes and struck a minivan driven by Cainan’s step-grandfather, Danny Basel.

Cainan’s sister, 23-month-old Courtlyn Shutt, is recovering from a broken vertebra, but she was released from Children’s Mercy hospital last week. His grandmother, Ann Basel, is also recovering from broken bones and a head injury at Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., family members said. The Basels are city of Lawrence public works employees.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers said they are still investigating the cause of the crash, including the possibility that drugs contributed after a preliminary autopsy indicated marijuana, benzodiazepine and methadone were in Pittman’s system.

It was the third wrong-way fatality crash on K-10 since August. A groundswell of support has developed in the wake of the April 16 crash, including a Facebook page started by Jodi Jackson, a Eudora resident who commutes on K-10 daily, urging the state to install cable barriers in the median.

More than 3,500 people had clicked “like” on the page through Monday, and Ali Shutt said leaders of the effort were also asking people to post “Cables for Cainan” on KDOT’s Facebook page.

In his letter, Brownback also ordered Miller “without delay” to immediately begin an update on the 2008 study on cable barriers “on this section of K-10.” KDOT was set to re-open the study in 2012, officials said last week.

The 2008 study was based on traffic and accident counts and the width of medians. But for cable barrier installations, KDOT selected a 1-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 75 in Topeka and a 4-mile section of Kansas Highway 96 in Sedgwick County.

Brownback also said Miller should contact Hopson about his concerns and to form a local group that can be included in the discussion of K-10 and “provide helpful input in the decision-making process.”

Hopson, who is a journeyman lineman for Kansas City Power and Light, was in Bridgeton, Mo., Monday helping repair tornado damage.

He said was happy with Brownback’s response and that the effort seemed to be moving forward. But he said he didn’t want the improvements to stop with rumble strips in the median because he said there still wouldn’t be anything to impede a vehicle from crossing into the wrong lanes in certain circumstances, such as if a driver had a seizure or swerved to avoid a deer.

“I appreciate them doing that, but I don’t think that one part addresses the need for the barrier,” Hopson said.

The governor in his letter said the local committee could review the KDOT analysis and provide input on whether cable barriers should be recommended.

Hopson has already asked mayors of cities along K-10 to join him in the effort, and Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting Tuesday will consider authorizing Mayor Aron Cromwell to sign a letter of support. Cromwell said last week he would like to see some type of barrier in K-10’s median.

By George Diepenbrock

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