Area officials support K-10 cable barriers at meeting

The Kansas Department of Transportation’s secretary Thursday promised to work with area leaders to get input in the study of the safety of Kansas Highway 10 in the wake of last month’s double fatality near Eudora’s Church Street interchange.

“I think working with a group of local officials, advised by law enforcement, adding in some citizens, it’s just a helpful way, I think, to make a decision,” KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said after a Thursday meeting with officials from Eudora, Lawrence, Douglas County and other cities.

After a 90-minute meeting, Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson said he would invite city officials along K-10, including from Lawrence and De Soto, to have one person participate in an advisory group to KDOT as it studies whether to install cable median barriers from Lawrence east to Interstate 435 in Johnson County.

Gov. Sam Brownback — after receiving a letter from Hopson last month — directed Miller to reopen a 2008 study in which KDOT concluded cable median barriers weren’t yet warranted on K-10.

“I would like to see the cable barrier installed or some type of barrier,” Hopson said. “I also asked that the information from a previous study be updated. We want to mainly get all of the information we can.”

KDOT leaders did say during the meeting they expected to finish by the end of the year a project to widen the shoulders and add rumble strips to K-10 in Douglas County, although proponents of the cable barriers have said they want more. They also said the process is moving too slowly.

Outside Thursday’s meeting, about 70 people participated in a candlelight vigil for 5-year-old Cainan Shutt who 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.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers have said drug use and inattention by Pittman, who also died, contributed to the crash, the second cross-median crash along the stretch since August.

As Hopson, Miller and deputy KDOT secretary Jerry Younger spoke to reporters in a gazebo after the meeting at the Eudora Community Center, Cainan’s mother, Ali Shutt, at one point made a tearful plea to Miller and said the process was dragging on.

“What’s the number? If we’re waiting for a number of people to die before we make the highways safe, what else do we need to do?” Shutt said later. “This to me was what we’ve already heard, and it was not enough.”

Thursday’s meeting included city and county officials from along the corridor, including Lawrence public works Director Chuck Soules, Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug, Sheriff Ken McGovern, Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman and county engineer Keith Browning.

Miller and Younger said Thursday the stretch of K-10 has had 11 fatalities resulting from 10 cross-median crashes since 2000, compared statewide with 104 fatalities from 89 cross-median crashes on four-lane highways. They have also said the state must consider the number of accidents that could occur with vehicles crashing into a cable barrier that otherwise would not have happened because drivers could correct their paths in the 60-foot-wide median.

But some area officials at the meeting said KDOT needed to take a closer look at the issue and the numbers. Hopson, Eudora’s mayor, was worried the highway might have become more dangerous since the 2008 study because there were two fatality cross-median crashes since August.

“No one around this table has the answer,” Hopson said. “It’s going to take all of us to figure this out.”

By George Diepenbrock

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