Advisers begin K-10 cable barrier study

Nearly two hours into a meeting discussing the safety of Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence, Carie Lawrence looked up from a map of dots that had depicted points of fatality accidents that had occurred across the state.

“These people were all loved and cared for and missed,” said Lawrence, of Overland Park, whose 5-year-old grandson Cainan Shutt of Eudora died in an April 16 crash on K-10 near Eudora. “Every number has a name. I don’t want that to get forgotten as we go to these meetings.”

Nineteen members of the group met Thursday at the Eudora Community Center to examine the highway’s safety after the April double fatality and the Kansas Department of Transportation’s policy on placing cable median barriers on four-lane highways.

Cainan Shutt’s family, Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson and members of a Facebook group have urged the state to install the cable median barrier between Lawrence and Interstate 435 in Johnson County. The group was formed under a directive from Gov. Sam Brownback after Hopson wrote him a letter.

Initial meeting

Representatives from along the corridor included residents, law enforcement and city and county government officials. Clay Adams, KDOT’s northeast Kansas district engineer, and Hopson were selected as co-chairmen.

Most of Thursday’s discussion centered on the number of cross-median fatality crashes that have occurred on K-10. Cainan Shutt died in the April 16 crash. An eastbound Toyota Camry driven by 24-year-old Ryan Pittman of Eudora crossed over the median and collided head-on with the minivan Cainan was riding in with his grandparents and 2-year-old sister, Courtlynn, who was also injured.

According to KDOT statistics provided at the meeting, 1,246 total accidents occurred from 2006 to 2010 on K-10 resulting in nine deaths. Of those, 35 have involved vehicles crossing the median resulting in five deaths. Statewide, 104 people have died in 89 fatal cross-median crashes from 2000 to 2010.

Some group members said that K-10 had become dangerous because of the high speeds, distracted drivers and the number of cross-median crashes, and that KDOT’s policy should focus more on preventing fatalities and give less weight to crashes where no one is injured.

“We can repair and replace cars all day long, but when somebody goes over in a fatality accident, you can’t replace that,” said Johnson County Commissioner Jim Allen, of Shawnee, who also works in the insurance business.

Allen said the state should also likely focus on trying to save drivers who are in the correct lane during a cross-median crash.

KDOT officials have said the issue still merits study because cable barriers are “not benign” and still cause damage, like in crashes where drivers might have been able to regain control in a wider median. Adams said it’s estimated 1 in 40 cable barrier crashes involve a fatality or serious injury.

KDOT officials have also asked the group to develop a way to assess how it justifies when to install a cable median barrier on a state highway.

“I come to these meetings very open. I come to this process to as very open-minded. There are some people in KDOT who would just flat say we’re not going to put a barrier up,” Adams said. “I just want you to know I’m not one of those.”

Future study

Group members, including Lawrence Public Works Director Chuck Soules and Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, mostly asked for more information for future meetings, such as specific details on what caused each cross-median fatality crash.

KDOT has already announced this year it will widen the shoulders and add rumble strips to K-10 in Douglas County to match the Johnson County section of the road. Hopson asked if the estimated $3.2 million cost of that project could instead be saved for a potential cable median construction, but Adams said the rumble strip project is part of repairing the surface of K-10 travel lanes.

“We couldn’t have taken that money and put it toward the cable. We needed to spend it there,” Adams said.

KDOT estimates it would cost $200,000 per mile to install a cable median barrier.

Members of the group scheduled their next meeting for July 14 when Dean Sicking, a University of Nebraska civil engineering professor who has helped KDOT study cable median barriers, is scheduled to give a presentation. Hopson said group members would meet monthly for five months so they could give a recommendation to KDOT in November.

KDOT would make the final decision about any improvements or changes to the highway.

By George Diepenbrock

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