New flashing lights are warning drivers about a dangerous intersection along U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence.
But the lights -- installed on signs approaching the turn onto Wells Overlook Road -- are no substitute for building a freeway to handle the 10,000 vehicles that squeeze through the area each day, officials say.
"These are improvements that will help in the short term," said Marty Matthews, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation. "The long-term solution is a modern, safer highway.
"All the signing and lighting in the world isn't going to improve the capacity and bring it up to modern design standards, which is the safest thing to do."
One person died and 18 people were injured in 23 accidents at the intersection from 1997 to 2001, KDOT said.
The intersection's accident history is part of the department's justification for spending $210.3 million to build a four-lane freeway connecting Lawrence and Ottawa.
The existing stretch already has an accident rate that is 25 percent higher than similar highways elsewhere in Kansas, according to KDOT statistics. The new 18-mile freeway is expected to reduce the number of fatality accidents by 80 percent, and the number of injury accidents by 60 percent.
The freeway, slated to be built 300 feet east of the existing highway, is expected to open in 2009.
The solar-powered lights were installed after KDOT officials reviewed accident records for the intersection looking for ways to improve safety while drivers wait for the freeway.
The study revealed lights could help warn approaching drivers to be on the lookout for motorists entering and exiting the highway at North 1000 Road to the west, Matthews said.
"It grabs your attention and makes you read the sign," he said. "You're aware of that intersection. You're looking for cross traffic and you slow down."