Committee wants Kansas Highway 10 to be a safety corridor

Members of a Kansas Highway 10 safety committee had a long list of concerns last week when they proposed a plan to increase fines and enforcement on the commuter highway east of Lawrence.

They wanted a crackdown on speeding after Kansas Department of Transportation officials showed them statistics that 15 percent of drivers were traveling faster than 77 mph within the 70 mph speed limit. Also, they worried about the number of drivers sending text messages as they barrel down the four-lane highway frequently taking their eyes off the road to look at their phones.

As the first recommendation from the group, formed to study whether the state should put cable median barriers on K-10 between Lawrence and Lenexa, it will ask the Legislature to designate the stretch of K-10 as a highway safety corridor, a tactic that some states have been using for several years.

Members of a K-10 safety committee last week proposed a plan to increase fines and enforcement on the busy commuter highway east of Lawrence.

The committee of Douglas County and Johnson County officials and residents was formed at the urging of Gov. Sam Brownback in the wake of the April 16 cross-median crash near Eudora that killed two of the city’s residents, including 5-year-old Cainan Shutt.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said at last week’s meeting he intended to begin working on legislation and seek bipartisan support before proposing it in January. Supporters of designating K-10 as a safety corridor do have several examples from other states they can look to in deciding how far they want things to go.

Highway safety officials in other states urged Kansas to focus on getting input from the community and law enforcement agencies before setting up a highway safety corridor that could include more signs warning drivers, extra traffic patrols and increased fines.

“The advice would be to let the community lead it as long as data is their guiding light,” said Angie Ward, a program manager for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, which has used safety corridors since the 1990s, although it’s not legal in the state to increase fines in the corridors.

State transportation officials in Washington, New Mexico and Virginia said highway safety corridors have helped reduce crashes along problematic stretches.

In New Mexico, department of transportation spokeswoman Megan Arredondo said the state saw 275 fewer crashes, or a 28 percent reduction, from 2001 to 2008 in its 12 safety corridors for areas that have a high number of injuries and deaths. Law enforcement has the authority to double fines on drivers who speed in the areas.

“In any safety corridor program, the key to success is high visibility enforcement,” Arredondo said.

New Mexico also installs signs that designate each corridor and posts lower speed limits.

In Virginia, the program has seen mixed results. Transportation officials said one major key is the ability for a state to direct funds for overtime to law enforcement to help with extra patrols.

Stephen Read, the highway safety improvement program manager for the Virginia Department of Transportation, said the state has seen a reduction in crashes in a more rural area on Interstate 81 compared to two other more urbanized stretches near the Washington, D.C., suburbs and Richmond area. He said in rural areas there’s less traffic and more room for law enforcement officers to target more dangerous drivers compared to heavily congested areas.

“I definitely think if you can keep that in the public eye, that you’ll see some effect,” Read said.

He said the corridor along I-81 has seen an 11 percent reduction in crashes when compared to similar locations. In the Richmond area it was about a 3 percent reduction, and the one in northern Virginia was about even.

But when he heard a description of K-10 between Lawrence and the suburban Kansas City area, Read said he thought it could be a good candidate to become a safety corridor.

In Washington, however, Ward, the traffic safety commission’s program manager, said her state likely wouldn’t designate K-10 and would probably look more to engineering solutions. But she said the key to using the corridors in her state center on increased enforcement and trying to generate an awareness, largely through the media, about safe driving habits.

“The biggest part in making this road safe,” Ward said, “is how you drive on it.”

By George Diepenbrock

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