Movement afoot to add roundabout at 56-77-150 junction

DangerousIntersection4034

DangerousIntersection4034

With more than 40 years of experience as an emergency medical technician, Gene Winkler of Marion knows a high-risk intersection when he sees one. He says the one at U.S. Highway 56/U.S. 77 and Kansas Highway 150 is dangerous.

Many of the accidents, injuries and deaths at that junction, located about two miles east of Marion, could be avoided with a circular intersection known as a roundabout, he said.

Prompted by his frustration with the number of accidents, Winkler decided to start a petition to construct a roundabout.

?The (Kansas Department of Transportation) has tried stop signs, red lights and rumble strips,? he said, ?but the accidents still happen.?

Winkler said KDOT?tried the same thing near Florence before putting in a roundabout.

?A four-way stop also was tried in Florence,? he said.

The problem with that option, Winkler said, is that one motorist would stop and one behind it didn?t, causing a rear-end collision.

 

Accident data

RoundaboutGraphic

An accident summary from legal assistant Sarah Palubin?ski in KDOT?s Freedom of Informa?tion office indicated that 17 accidents had occurred at the intersection from Jan?uary 2007 though September 2011.

Ten of the accidents involved personal injury and seven only property damage.

In a majority of the incidents, a driver was cited for either failing to yield the right of way, not paying attention or thinking the intersection was a four-way stop.

Winkler said he is concerned about motorists who are unfamiliar with the intersection.

?We are out in the middle of nowhere,? he said, adding that drivers may not see a car for 20 to 30 miles and may not be prepared for cross traffic.

He cited an accident Nov. 16 involving a 23-year-old man from Warrensburg, Mo., who died after failing to yield at the stop sign and crashed into another car.

City council agrees

Winkler isn?t the only person talking about changes for that intersection.

Doug Kjellin, Marion city administrator, said the Nov. 16 accident is only the most recent in a long history of collisions there.

In a Dec. 15 letter to KDOT, Kjellin stated that city council members wanted officials in Topeka to know the intersection is dangerous and modifications should be made.

?Although the mechanics of the modifications are fully within KDOT?s analysis and ability, it is time to start this modification plan now,? the letter stated.

Kjellin added a sense of urgency because many Marion residents use that intersection on a daily basis.

Considering options

?We are certainly looking at alternatives,? said KDOT area engineer Joe Palic of Marion, ?and it?s good to have input from local people.?

KDOT is ?definitely considering? a roundabout, he added.

He said the roundabout near Florence is a shining example of how well it can work.

Palic said a roundabout would cost between $2 million and $2.5 million.

Success at Florence

Cheryl Lambrecht, KDOT?senior traffic engineer in Topeka, was instrumental in getting the roundabout near Florence.

Two teen-agers died in July 2003 when they started crossing U.S. 50 and were struck by a semi-truck. By fall 2003, the Florence intersection was converted to a four-way stop with beacons and rumble strips.

The roundabout was opened to traffic in September 2006, and to date there has been only one vehicle crash. The mishap involved a semi-truck cab towing two additional cabs.

?The driver entered the roundabout too fast and the towed cabs tipped over into the central island. The driver wasn?t hurt.? she said. ?For an intersection that was averaging five crashes per year, this is an amazing improvement.?

Impressed with Winkler

Lambrecht said Winkler?s petition made a positive impression when it arrived late last week. A petition is not necessarily needed when someone asks KDOT look at a specific road issue, she added.

?Letting us know there is a problem is enough, but we do want to thank Gene Winkler for sending a petition,? Lambrecht said.

Even so, KDOT has multiple offices in its agency to develop projects, she said. Those offices include Transportation Engineering, Safe Routes to School, Bureau of Local Projects, Bureau of Design, Geometric Improvement and Economic Development and Bureau of Transportation Safety and Technology.

She said questions need to be answered concerning what a driver sees, the problems in that area and reviewing crash history.

?After looking at all the options and weighing the possibilities, KDOT comes up with a recommendation,? Lambrecht said.

Accident data

Lambrecht talked about some of the mistakes motorists make.

?At one crash, the driver told police he was reading a book and eating a sandwich when the accident happened,? she said.

On another occasion, a motorcyclist was eating a bucket of chicken he had placed between his legs and the gas tank, she said.

?One motorist explained that his GPS unit didn?t say there was a stop sign at the intersection,? Lambrecht added.

Roundabouts, she said, will save lives, but drivers still can have accidents?even at roundabouts.

Accidents vs. crashes

Benjamin Gardner, public resource officer for the KHP, which covers more than 18 counties in north central Kansas, said there is no such thing as an accident.

?An accident is not preventable,? he said, ?but crashes are something preventable.?

Gardner said he is familiar with the U.S. 56/U.S. 77/K-150 intersection and, in his experience, has seen many careless drivers.

?Too many drivers are multi-tasking,? he said. ?They are talking to their children, reaching in the backseat to hand a child a toy, driving too fast, talking or texting and then travel through a stop sign.?

When traveling on K-150 and U.S. 77, drivers must make adjustments for intersections, Gardner said.

?Not enough following distance, driving too fast and not paying attention are three main reasons drivers have crashes,? he said.

The age of the driver is another contributor

?New drivers have trouble negotiating the roadway and older drivers have mobility issues like turning their head,? he said. ?There are a lot of variables and a lot of different things that can happen.?

Advantages

Gardner said he favors adding more roundabouts. They can improve safety with more than a 90 percent reduction in fatalities, 76 percent reduction in injuries and 35 percent reduction in all crashes.

KDOT officials agree with the safety reason, and say the roundabout will also save money in maintenance costs for signal equipment, power and installation.

Some Marion County have residents told Winkler they weren?t sold on a roundabout, but Lambrecht said education is the key to the acceptance and success of this solution.

Winkler has asked city and county officials to write letters to KDOT recommending the roundabout.

Whatever decision KDOT comes up with, Winkler is satisfied he has done as much as he can .?The ball is now in their court,? he said.

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