Archive for Thursday, June 21, 2007

End of the road for ‘silent killer’

Groundbreaking ceremony marks start of construction for new U.S. Highway 59

June 21, 2007

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KDOT Secretary Deb Miller

Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller speaks at a press conference at the groundbreaking event for the U.S. 59 expansion between Ottawa and Lawrence. Enlarge video

Deadly road finally gets much needed improvements

Safer travel between Lawrence and Ottawa is officially on the way as ground-breaking ceremony today kicked off construction of 18 new miles of road, that will eventually become Highway 59. Enlarge video

The end is in sight for a highway some call "the silent killer."

At a rural intersection three miles north of Ottawa, ground was broken Wednesday to mark the start of construction on a new U.S. Highway 59.

The four-lane highway will connect Ottawa and Lawrence and should be completed in 2011. It will be safer than the narrow two-lane highway that has existed since the 1920s, said Deb Miller, secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation.

"We simply did not have a worse two-lane road in the state of Kansas, in my opinion, and I'm so pleased that we are embarking on finally improving this road to the highest safety standards," Miller said.

The new highway will have seven interchanges and cost a total of $240 million, Miller said. About 10,000 vehicles a day use the old highway and that number will increase dramatically on the new one, she said.

"A project like this doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to this point," Miller said.

Miller and other KDOT representatives, as well as about 40 people from Franklin and Douglas counties, attended the ceremony at the intersection of Reno and Montana roads. Franklin County Commissioner Sue Ferrell and Douglas County Commissioner Bob Johnson were among those in attendance.

Johnson compared the groundbreaking ceremony to a mountain climbing expedition.

"What people want to hear is what we say at the top of the mountain, knowing full well we can't get to the top without taking the first step," he said.

A few miles north of the ceremony, just east of U.S. 59, a road grader and bulldozers were already clearing ground. The first phase of the construction is grading and bridge work from Interstate 35 northeast of Ottawa to the Douglas County line, a distance of seven miles.

Bids for surface work in Franklin County will be opened in December 2008. In Douglas County, grading and bridge work covering 11 miles is tentatively scheduled to be let in November 2008 and surfacing in June 2010.

State and local leaders expect the new highway to spur economic development in Ottawa and Lawrence.

"The phrase, 'if you build it, they will come' proved to be true for I-35 and most likely it will for 59 Highway as well," Ferrell said. She said it would put Ottawa on target for economic development.

The new highway required the state to purchase dozens of properties, displacing residents who were living along the new highway's path. Miller said choosing the highway's route was difficult.

"I agonized over the choice because of the impact it was going to have on residents," she said. "I think we made a good choice."

In Franklin County, 46 land tracts were obtained for the highway, said Howard Lubliner, KDOT road designer. In Douglas County, 25 of 111 tracts have been obtained.

Among those watching the ceremony was C.T. Taul, who has lived near the intersection of U.S. Highways 59 and 56, also called Baldwin Junction, since 1942. Taul is giving up 8 acres for the highway project but will continue to live nearby.

"We had a little bit of our own community at the junction," Taul said.

Taul also said he was staying on his farm because he likes the rural area.

"I'm a nature lover," he said.

The effort to get a new highway began 15 years ago when Franklin County representatives approached the state about getting something done about what they referred to as a silent killer, said Tom Weigand, president and chief executive officer of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

"I can think of several that I personally knew who died on that highway," Weigand said.

In just the past five years, there were four fatal accidents resulting in six deaths on the highway between Lawrence and Ottawa, according to KDOT. During that same time there were 127 people injured in 77 accidents.

Comments

average 7 years, 11 months ago

"Silent killer"? I've never heard that applied before. Deaths on US 59 usually make a pretty loud smash. Maybe some Franklin County residents need a hearing aid?

KS 7 years, 11 months ago

The SLT would be nice, but I am convinced it will never happen. Too many politically correct people involved. Afraid of lawsuits.

FredGarvin_MP 7 years, 11 months ago

I get so sick of hearing about killer highways and now the silent killer highway. Highways don't kill people, inattentive drivers kill themselves and other people. If drivers would be more aware of what they are doing, stop speeding, get off the cell phones and drive defensively, these very unfortunate events would not happen.

hk45 7 years, 11 months ago

Hopefully ground breaking for the SLT will be done before they complete US59.

Ken Miller 7 years, 11 months ago

Inattentive driving is the top killer on our roads - including US-59. However, constructing the new US-59 as a four-lane highway with paved, wider shoulders will help reduce the number of serious accidents per lane mile traveled. The wider road and better shoulders will give drivers a better chance to correct and/or avoid, not to mention that drivers won't have to pass slower motorists by using the oncoming lane of traffic.

That said, we may still see similar accident figures for the new 59 in the future - the one, two or three deaths per year - because the new highway will have a lot more traffic on it. The accident rate, however, should drop significantly.

Linda Endicott 7 years, 11 months ago

Seven interchanges?? With what?

I've never understood why they didn't just widen the road that's already there, instead of wanting to run it in a different area altogether.

Bubbles 7 years, 11 months ago

Its not a only a matter of widening. It also needs to have the hills removed.

chemegirlie 7 years, 11 months ago

I am glad to see that something is going to be done about that highway. I had a friend that was in a fatal wreck on that road and after personally being tailgated (as in less than a car length between us) by a semi the enitire way from Lawrence to Ottawa last weekend, I will be relieved to be able to just get over into another lane if I have to.

Kontum1972 7 years, 11 months ago

it does not matter how safe the road is....or how many lanes u drop down....consider the retard behind the wheel...they wouldnt even slow down during the kasold construction....or the crossing guard in the road during school season...too many DA's that have DL's...thats what makes the road's unsafe..make it a rule..if u are in an accident and its your fault u lose your driving priv's for one year.....just think how many careless DA's would be taken off the roads....people make up their own rules behind the wheel ever second....

Bill Chapman 7 years, 11 months ago

The road is NOT dangerous! It is the people who drive on the road that are dangerous. There are far to many idiots out there who seem to believe that driving a car is a right and not a PRIVLEDGE. We need new laws that treat vehicles as dangerous as guns. There are more people killed in the U.S. by vehicle accidents than by guns. If laws are enacted to reflect that, drivers will either start paying attention when driving or they will pay he piper.

dagopman 7 years, 11 months ago

A special thank you to former Congressman Jim Ryun for obtaining a sizable federal appropriation to fund this much needed project.

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