Posts tagged with Transportation

Kansas Highway Patrol expects tickets to decline as speed limits increase July 1 to 75 mph on some highways

Boosting speed limits on more than 800 miles of state and federal highways to 75 mph likely will reduce the number of tickets issued, at least during the next few months, the Kansas Highway Patrol says.

But don’t expect drivers to stay off the accelerators for long.

“Based on our experience in the past, when the speed limit is increased we see a time period of adjustment where traffic actually is moving slower than the posted limit,” said Technical Trooper Mark Engholm, a patrol spokesman. “It’s their comfort level.

“We’ll have to wait six months, maybe a year, to see what effect this has. It’s new territory. We’ll see what happens.”

The clock starts ticking on Thursday, when crews from the Kansas Department of Transportation begin riveting 276 metal plates — each featuring a fresh new “75” — onto existing 70 mph signs along 583 miles of state and federal highways being adjusted.

The Kansas Turnpike Authority, meanwhile, will begin affixing new 5s over 0s that same day on 90 signs along a 224-mile stretch of the turnpike, from the Oklahoma border all the way to the Kansas Highway 7 interchange at Bonner Springs.

The stretch includes about seven miles cutting through the Lawrence area, carrying an average of more than 28,000 vehicles per day.

Michael Johnston, the turnpike’s CEO, doesn’t expect driver speeds to increase dramatically, but the authority is conducted speed studies now at a handful of sites along the turnpike. Studies will be repeated this fall, to provide comparison data about drivers’ comfort levels.

Johnston, for one, figures the so-called “85th percentile” speed — the speed at which 85 percent of drivers are traveling at or below — might rise by 2 or 3 miles per hour in areas with the new 75 mph limit. That’s the speed, according to engineers, that drivers feel comfortable traveling.

“I drive a certain speed on the turnpike, and I’m not going to increase my speed at all,” Johnston said.

The new speed limit will go into effect in Kansas on 807 miles of state and federal highways, including the turnpike. That’s less than 10 percent of the nearly 10,000 miles of highways and freeways running throughout the state, a total system in which the Kansas Highway Patrol wrote 65,847 speeding tickets and issued 71,741 warnings for speeding.

For illustration's sake, the patrol would need to write 234 additional tickets — each with a $45 fine for going up to 10 mph over the posted speed limit, not including court costs — to cover the state’s added expense for updating signs. Not that the patrol worries about the revenue side.

Legislators didn’t allocate additional money to change the signs, but the Kansas Department of Transportation isn’t complaining.

“They did authorize a new program again last year,” said Steve Swartz, a department spokesman, referring to the $8 billion T-Works program that will finance projects for the next 10 years, “so we’re happy with that.”

By Mark Fagan


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


Speed limit on several highways — including Kansas Turnpike — to increase to 75 mph on July 1

Travelers in Kansas will get to their destinations faster as the state increases the speed limit on most freeways from 70 mph to 75 mph.

The change, announced Tuesday by the Kansas Department of Transportation, will take place July 1 just as the roads start filling up with motorists for the July 4 holiday weekend.

Almost all of the Kansas Turnpike — from the Kansas-Oklahoma border to K-7 in Wyandotte County — will be 75 mph as will most of interstates 70 and 35; and U.S. highways 69 and 81.

In all, 807 miles of roadway will graduate from 70 mph to 75 mph. All are freeways, which have controlled access and interchanges. No expressways, which have cross traffic, were selected for the increased speed limit.

The routes were picked by a task force made up of KDOT representatives, the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Turnpike Authority.

“We considered a number of factors, such as traffic volumes, crash history and roadway geometrics, to determine where to raise the limit,” said Chris Herrick, director of KDOT’s Division of Planning and Development. “We will continue to monitor these routes under the new speed limit and consider whether it makes sense to increase the maximum speed on other highways.”

Not on the increased speed limit list was K-10. Steve Swartz, a spokesman for KDOT, said K-10 was too heavily traveled for 75 mph. “It’s such a heavy commuter route,” he said.

The changes were prompted by legislation approved in the recently completed legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.

Rep. Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, drove the bill through the Legislature, hitting few bumps along the way.

Kleeb argued the increased limit would help the economy by making Kansas more attractive to vacation travelers and truckers. Most western states have already adopted 75 mph.

No groups opposed the measure. Jim Hanni, a spokesman for AAA in Kansas, said the bill seemed like a “done deal.”

Although he added, “There is nothing positive about it from a safety standpoint, and there is nothing positive about it from a fuel efficiency standpoint.”

The website, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, states each 5 mph over 60 mph is the equivalent of paying an additional 30 cents per gallon of gas.

And the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cites studies that show states that increased speed limits saw an increase in traffic fatalities.

“For practical reasons, there are limits to the amount of crash energy that can be managed by vehicles, restraint systems, and roadway hardware such as barriers and crash cushions. The higher the speed, the higher the likelihood that these limits will be exceeded in crashes, limiting the protection available for vehicle occupants,” according to the institute.

Swartz, with KDOT, said state officials are satisfied with the safety of raising the limit and had no qualms starting the increase right before a heavily traveled holiday.

“If we didn’t think these roads could handle it during holiday traffic they wouldn’t have been boosted up,” he said.

By Scott Rothschild


More traffic delays should be expected this weekend

The Kansas Department of Transportation warns drivers to expect more traffic delays this weekend as work continues on the Interstate 35/Interstate 435 interchange.

Eastbound I-435 will be reduced to two open lanes from Lackman Road to I-35 and the southbound I-35 to eastbound I-435 ramp will be closed for bridge painting work around the clock beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 17. All lanes are expected to reopen at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 19.

While detours will be marked for the ramp closure, KDOT advises drivers to use an alternate route if possible. Closures may be viewed online and the project is expected to be complete by the end of July.


KDOT warns drivers to expect weekend delays

The Kansas Department of Transportation will have the southbound US Highway 69 bridge ramp to eastbound I-435 closed for resurfacing work beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 10. The ramp should be reopened to all traffic at 5:30 a.m., Monday, June 13.

While a detour for the route will be marked, KDOT warns that drivers should expect major delays and suggests using an alternate route if possible. A map of the detour may be downloaded here.

Drivers should also expect delays as the northbound Interstate 35 ramp to westbound Interstate 435 and the left two lanes of westbound I-435 between Quivira Road and I-35 will be closed for line painting, beginning at 7 p.m. tonight. KDOT expects these traffic ways to be reopened at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, weather permitting.

Constant updates for road closures and delays may be viewed at KDOT's website.


Making profits on food a ‘gamble’: As gas prices sprout up, so do costs of growing

To plant and grow his 1,000 acres of corn and 1,000 acres of soybeans, Baldwin City farmer Mike Wintermantel will spend about $50,000 on fuel this year. And that’s OK with him.

“We hope (fuel) prices stay high,” Wintermantel said. “It’s kind of odd, but that’s the truth.”

For Wintermantel and other commodity farmers, high fuel prices often lead to high corn and soybean prices and a greater profit.

But eight miles northeast of Lawrence, fourth-generation produce farmer Mike Garrett tells a different story. Garrett’s family farm has survived floods, droughts and the Great Depression. Now he must find a way to survive rising fuel costs. To remain viable, Garrett has combined his operation with his neighbor, Richard Brauer. Together they share expertise, contacts and 120 acres of sandy soil near the Kaw River to plant melons, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a lot better us working together than butting heads,” Garrett said.

High gas prices might provide a windfall for many commodity farmers, but have made life difficult for smaller food producers.

Douglas County Extension Director Bill Wood said ethanol, a biofuel gasoline-alternative made from corn, accounts for these two different story lines.

“When gas prices go up, so does ethanol demand,” he said. “The ethanol manufacturers can pay more for their corn and still keep their businesses in shape.”

According to the USDA, 41 percent or 5 billion bushels of last year’s corn crop was used in ethanol production, a 9 percent increase from 2009.

Wood said feeding ethanol production growth has increased corn prices.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, corn prices have risen from an average of $3.50 a bushel in 2009 to an average of $6 a bushel this year, prompting farmers to plant nearly 4 million more acres of corn than in 2010, an increase of 4.5 percent.

“When you get twice as much money as you got two years ago, that helps your inflow of cash,” Wood said.

And Wintermantel, who rents most of the 2,000 acres he farms, will need a good inflow of cash. He said fuel, fertilizer and machinery prices have increased this year, ballooning his planting and growing costs to a record $500,000. Wintermantel said he needs corn prices to remain above $4 per bushel to allow him to break even.

However, produce farmers Garrett and Brauer said that their buyers at farmers markets and groceries have offered no price increase to cushion them from rising fuel costs. This has limited the scope of their operation.

Before gasoline prices increased they would drive pickup trucks full of watermelons or tomatoes twice a week to buyers as far away as St. Joseph, Mo. Now they try to stay within about 30 miles of their farm, and limit longer trips to once a week. Limiting their selling radius also limits the number of buyers.

To save money, they do not run their large irrigator unless the crops are in dire need of moisture. And Brauer tries to limit even the smallest of trips.

“I mean I used to go into town once in a while to have a Coke,” Brauer said. “Now I just stay here. I have some in the fridge.”

Garrett and Brauer are not the only ones who will feel the pinch. Consumers are as well.

Kansas University economics professor Donna Ginther expects to see food prices increase. Ginther said more farmers switching to corn and producing non-food products such as ethanol will decrease food production and raise food prices. Stores will have to pay more for the products they sell, as well as higher transportation costs.

“If stores have to pay more, they will pass those costs along,” Ginther said. “They are into passing on additional prices if they can.”

Far away from the grocery stores, Garrett and Brauer as well as Wintermantel must now wait and watch fuel prices.

Wintermantel needs gas prices to stay high to profit from his corn crop.

Garrett and Brauer wish prices would go down so they could expand their operation. Regardless, they will adapt. This year they have planted 40 acres of melons, wagering that high transportation costs will allow them to undercut larger out-of-state melon farms.

While Garrett and Brauer’s experience with the fuel price increase varies drastically from Wintermantel’s, all the farmers agree that weather, crop prices and fuel costs make farming and making a living a game of chance.

“It’s a gamble,” Garrett said. “Too bad we can’t afford to go to Las Vegas.”

By Adam Strunk


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


Caretaker keeps Lawrence Amtrak depot running while city sleeps

Nighttime in Lawrence is most often a quiet time.

Unless you’re Nate Anderson.

That’s because Anderson mans the Lawrence Amtrak depot, 413 E. Seventh St., opening it for the arrival of the midnight train. The nightly gig hasn’t been gentle on his hearing, but he’s learned how to cope since assuming the role of midnight caretaker last June.

“I’ve been here long enough,” he said. “I usually wait inside the door to save my ears.”

While the train itself, known as the Southwest Chief, may be noisy, the Lawrence depot rarely is. The station averages between 10 and 20 passengers each night on a track that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles. That often means there isn’t anyone for Anderson, 37, to talk with during the hour or so he spends on the job each night. He fills his downtime with cleaning, music and, when the wireless connection is decent, Internet browsing.

He also takes advantage of the time when he is around people, getting to know the conductors on the No. 3. But his chats with the train officials have gotten significantly shorter in his time at the station since the 30-minute layover was eliminated. Now the train stops just long enough to let passengers enter and exit.

“It’s only in Lawrence for five to seven minutes,” Anderson said. “That’s if it’s running on time.”

The depot wasn’t always as welcoming as it is now. In its recent history, the station had been more a shelter for the homeless than a waiting room for train riders. When Anderson dropped his brother off at the station last summer, he found out about the caretaker job opening.

Anderson now unlocks the doors, which used to remain open overnight, and cleans the station. When the weather is nice, he sets out chairs to accommodate waiting riders.

“Having somebody here makes it a lot more inviting,” he said. “I get told a lot of times that people appreciate me just being here.”

That appreciation may be, in part, because of the reputation the depot used to have. A group called Depot Redux has been working hard to revitalize the station. The process has resulted in hiring depot caretakers like Anderson to open the building for the midnight train. Another caretaker was hired to open the depot for the morning train.

During his time at the station, Anderson has seen all sorts of crowds. He’s had quiet nights when no one shows up to ride, and he’s had his hands full with 70 high school band members crowding the small depot. Some passengers on the late train say the night crowd is entertaining.

“It’s an interesting crowd on the midnight train,” first-time rider Jeff Hattem said.

Apart from learning the ins and outs of depot caretaking, Anderson has also learned a lot about trains and everything that goes along with them. He can tell you how far away a train is by looking at the signal lights. He’s learned about the different track classifications. It was never something he thought he’d get into, but Anderson enjoys what he does.

“I’m not a big train buff,” he said. “But I am interested in public transportation.”

Anderson, who is currently without a full-time job, keeps in high spirits, jokingly labeling his work situation as “underemployment.” He also volunteers with Depot Redux and is preparing for the busier summer season at the station. Lawrence’s depot is technically unmanned, meaning it doesn’t sell tickets or check baggage.

Carey Maynard-Moody of Depot Redux said use of the local depot has risen 13 percent since 2010. The increase in passenger traffic should ensure the station stays open.

“I think our station is symbolic of survival,” Maynard-Moody said. “There’s something visceral about rail travel. It’s too much a part of our history. We’re not going to let it go.”

By Joe Preiner


Transportation secretary makes case that cable barriers are no ‘silver bullet,’ but announces meetings to study their effectiveness on K-10

Kansas Department of Transportation officials told reporters Friday afternoon that cable median barriers on divided highways weren’t a “silver bullet” in stopping all accidents as the state studies the safety of Kansas Highway 10

“Cable barriers are not benign. They don’t solve all the problems and can in some situations create problems,” KDOT Secretary Deb Miller said Friday. “So our deliberations must center on whether they provide more benefits or create more liabilities. The question isn’t: Do we have the money? The question is: Is this the right strategy?”

Miller and state transportation engineer Jerry Younger spoke to the media days after Gov. Sam Brownback directed Miller to reopen a study into the use of cable barriers on K-10 between Lawrence and Kansas City.

Two Eudora residents, 5-year-old Cainan Shutt and 24-year-old Ryan Pittman, died in a crossover crash east of the Church Street interchange, leading Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson to write a letter to Brownback asking the state to immediately install cable median barriers from Lawrence east to Interstate 435 in Johnson County.

Brownback also directed KDOT to expedite a project to be completed this year to widen the shoulders and install rumble strips along K-10 in Douglas County. Those features are already in place in Johnson County.

Ali Shutt, Cainan Shutt’s mother, after the news conference said her family and supporters were thankful for Brownback’s directive but said the state needed to do more than just install rumble strips on K-10. She said cable barriers would help prevent dangerous cross-median accidents that often result in head-on collisions.

“We realize that this still could cause accidents, but it’s going to save the next person on the other side,” Shutt said.

Miller and Younger said cable median barriers have proven to be effective, especially on Missouri highways, but they said generally Kansas fatalities from cross median crashes have been low compared to other states.

Kansas Highway Patrol troopers have said they are still investigating the cause of the April 16 crash, including the possibility that drugs contributed after a preliminary autopsy indicated marijuana, benzodiazepine and methadone were in the system of Pittman who drove the car that struck the westbound minivan Cainan Shutt was riding in.

Miller said KDOT would meet on May 12 with city officials, including from Eudora and Lawrence, to talk about forming a local group to provide input for the cable median study.

By George Diepenbrock


Deadly accident spurs calls to make K-10 safer

For Briana Arensberg, it happened in a split second.

She was headed west about 8:20 p.m. Aug. 21 on Kansas Highway 10 near Eudora when suddenly a trailer slammed into the side of her vehicle and caused her Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle to flip over.

The trailer had come loose from an eastbound vehicle and traveled across the 60-foot grass median before pieces of wood splintered into Arensberg’s SUV on impact. The 22-year-old Kansas University student was OK after suffering abrasions on her arm and under her chin. A Missouri man had more serious injuries after a similar incident in January when a trailer came loose and struck a vehicle near De Soto.

Bad memories flooded back for Arensberg on April 16 when she learned of a cross-median crash near the same spot of her accident on the highway east of the Church Street interchange. Two people, including 5-year-old Cainan Shutt of Eudora, died in the head-on crash after an eastbound car driven by 24-year-old Ryan Pittman of Eudora, who also died, crossed the median and struck the westbound minivan Cainan’s stepgrandfather, Danny Basel, was driving.

Now Arensberg is one of thousands of people on Facebook who have written to state officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback, following the lead of Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson urging the Kansas Department of Transportation to install cable median barriers to impede out-of-control vehicles from crossing over into the wrong lane.

“A cable system would help prevent accidents like these and also save the lives of those we love,” Arensberg said.

Brownback last week directed KDOT Secretary Deb Miller to reopen a study on the cable barriers on K-10 and to expedite a project to widen K-10 shoulders in Douglas County and install rumble strips. A local group including Lawrence and Eudora city officials will provide input in the cable median barrier study.

But KDOT officials on Friday said that the cable barriers were not a “silver bullet” in being able to stop all crashes and that engineers studying the highway need to look at many issues when deciding whether to install the barriers. One consideration is, if medians on K-10 become narrower due to the cable, would it cause more accidents because drivers who normally can regain control instead collide with the barrier?

“That’s why we’ve got to look at it all,” said Kim Qualls, a KDOT spokeswoman.

Cross-median crashes

Ali Shutt, Cainan’s mother, Hopson and other supporters on the Facebook group asking KDOT to install the cables say K-10 has become alarmingly dangerous because of the number of cross-median fatality crashes.

According to KDOT, from 2000 to 2010, of the 17 crashes that killed 19 people on K-10 between Lawrence and Interstate 435, seven crashes involved cross-median collisions and two more were due to vehicles crossing the median. The causes cited in those crashes were: driver inattention and loss of control, twice; avoiding road debris, once; making an unknown evasive maneuver, four times; speeding during an avoidance maneuver, once; and driver inattention, once.

Proponents of the cable barriers say they are worried because the April 16 accident followed an August cross-median fatality crash near De Soto and another fatality accident in October when a woman was driving the wrong way for several miles.

Other states have reported success with installing cable median barriers, and Jorma Duran, a Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman, said the agency estimates the cables save about 50 lives a year in crashes on all of the state’s four-lane highways. He said 400 people were killed in cross-median crashes statewide from 1996 to 2005, and cross-median crash fatalities have dropped to single digits per year since cable median barriers were installed on various four-lane highways starting in 2006.

But Jerry Younger, a KDOT deputy secretary and the state’s transportation engineer, said cross-median fatality numbers in Missouri were much higher than Kansas mainly because of high traffic rates and narrower medians. Younger said Kansas annually averages five cross-median crash fatalities on its entire 1,000 miles of four-lane divided highways.

K-10 east of Lawrence to I-435 in Johnson County also had fewer fatality accidents from 2000 to 2010 compared with roughly the same stretch of Interstate 70 to I-435, which has a concrete median barrier, on the Kansas Turnpike, according to KDOT statistics. K-10 over the 24.5-mile stretch had 2,840 total accidents, including 17 accidents that involved fatalities and 561 injury accidents, compared with 3,553 accidents on 23 miles of I-70 that included 19 accidents that involved fatalities and 746 injury accidents. On K-10, 19 people died in those crashes and 756 were injured, while 21 died on I-70 and 1,164 were injured.

K-10, which is a major commuter corridor, also has an average daily traffic count in that stretch that is higher than I-70, which part of a cross-country interstate highway that had higher amounts of commercial truck traffic, according to KDOT. From 2004-2008, the section of K-10 averaged 33,568 vehicles per day compared with 31,075 on I-70, Qualls said.

K-10’s fatality crash rate during that period was 0.56 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 0.69 on I-70 and the average on all of the state’s highways of 1.23.

Dean Sicking, a University of Nebraska civil engineering professor who studied the state’s four-lane highway system in 2008, said he considered the numbers on the two highways to be comparable. He said having a cross-median crash on I-70 would be rare compared with K-10 because of the concrete barrier in place, but he said fatality crashes still occur there for various other reasons.

K-10 traffic

Area commuters who travel on K-10 daily said the recent cross-median crashes are a major concern along with what seems to be increasing traffic and the speeds that people drive.

Patty Noland, who has commuted to Lawrence mostly as part of a daily car pool from her home in the Kansas City area since 1998, said K-10 seems to have become busier in the last 13 years.

“The main thing I notice is just people speeding and going way too fast,” said Noland, who works in Kansas University’s School of Journalism. “I think that might be part of the problem, people going too rapidly and they lose control.”

Noland said K-10 for the most part doesn’t seem to be overly dangerous, although she called the fatality accidents in recent months “alarming” and said it likely would be beneficial for the state to install the cable median barriers.

Jim Hall, a Lawrence resident who drives to the Kansas City area for work, said law enforcement should focus more on the area, especially on violations such as tailgating other vehicles.

“As law enforcement has gotten more relaxed, it has allowed people to be less stringent on their driving habits,” Hall said.

Don Hughes, a technical trooper with the Kansas Highway Patrol, said troopers do try to patrol the highway and dedicate extra patrols to the area when they can.

Greg Benefiel, an assistant Douglas County district attorney who prosecutes traffic and DUI cases, said he notices tickets for higher speeds on K-10 and for vehicles following too closely, which is a concern.

“We see what I consider to be too many (speeding tickets) that are over 90 mph, and we even get the occasional one over 100 mph,” Benefiel said.

Heather Helm, of Eudora, who has commuted for four years to work in Overland Park, said she worries that the amount of people speeding, coupled with possible distractions that drivers have, increases the chances for cross-median crashes and head-on collisions. She’s also skeptical that the median is enough space for some drivers to get stopped or correct their path before entering the oncoming lanes.

“There’s no way if someone’s driving that fast,” she said.

Troopers have said they are still investigating the cause of the April 16 crash, including the possibility that drugs contributed after a preliminary autopsy indicated marijuana, benzodiazepine and methadone were in Pittman’s system.

Hopson and other advocates for cable median barriers said the recent cross-median fatality accidents demonstrate the need for a cable median to stop a vehicle of a driver that perhaps has lost control because of impaired driving or perhaps a medical issue.

KDOT officials say that’s why they want local leaders to be able to provide input in the study.

“It’s important that there will be a committee looking at it,” Qualls said, “and it will help definitely educate as well as address other things people are seeing that maybe just aren’t noted by the numbers.”

By George Diepenbrock