Archive for Sunday, June 21, 2009

Building a safer road

Long-awaited improvements expected to decrease accidents

Drilling machines crawl along a hillside south of Lawrence on Thursday drilling holes some 20 feet deep for explosive charges to loosen the ground, just one part of the ongoing construction on U.S. 59 Highway between Ottawa and Lawrence. The project is well under way in Douglas County.

Drilling machines crawl along a hillside south of Lawrence on Thursday drilling holes some 20 feet deep for explosive charges to loosen the ground, just one part of the ongoing construction on U.S. 59 Highway between Ottawa and Lawrence. The project is well under way in Douglas County.

June 21, 2009


— To his right rises Pleasant Grove hill, a slope so steep and stripped of vegetation that it could pass for a summertime ski slope.

To his left, past a single crane in the distance, rests the city of Lawrence, the community whose drivers await an opportunity to avoid the harrowing two-lane danger zone that carries them south toward Ottawa.

Here in the middle, Jason Van Nice pores over a set of plans — hundreds of pages detailing locations for rock, concrete and steel that will form a new four-lane freeway, one with such limited access and improved sight lines and roadside shoulders that driver safety will be expected to rise, well, exponentially.

And for that, the construction manager for the Kansas Department of Transportation can hardly wait.

“This project’s been a long time coming,” Van Nice says, as crews pour concrete for a massive 300-foot-long box culvert that will funnel a creek beneath the new highway. “From concept to design planning, it’s been 10 or 15 years. And people who know Lawrence know how much this is needed.

“It’s not very often that we get to build something like this, that’s completely new. It’s new territory for us. It’s new ground. We’re really breaking new ground over here.”

The project to build a new four-lane, limited-access freeway east of the existing U.S. 59 from Lawrence to Ottawa is speeding toward completion by late 2012 or early 2013.

And while the 6.7-mile stretch of highway in Franklin County already is prepared for its new surface, the 11.1-mile stretch in Douglas County only now is starting to reveal its shape.

Safe investment

Crews are busy blasting rock, moving soil, pouring drainage culverts and building bridges as part of a $57 million contract that represents only a fraction of the overall project cost, now estimated at $213 million.

For the money, drivers will see plenty of changes:

• Driveways and side roads no longer will connect directly to the highway. Instead, sections of the existing U.S. 59 will serve as frontage roads, and traffic entering the new highway will need to do so at interchanges designed to allow drivers to get up to speed before merging into traffic. Interchanges in Douglas County will be at Wells Overlook Road (also known as North 1000 Road and Douglas County Road 458), North 650 Road and U.S. Highway 56.

• The speed limit will be 65 mph along the highway, up from the 55 mph on the existing U.S. 59.

• Roadside shoulders — 10 feet wide on the outside, and 6 feet wide on the inside — will give drivers a place to pull over and repair a flat tire or answer to a law enforcement officer.

• Four lanes of traffic the entire way, instead of sections of two-lane travel that can frustrate travelers and prompt some to attempt ill-advised passes.

“It will be great for traffic,” said Kim Qualls, a KDOT spokeswoman.

But the work is by no means easy.

Having a blast

In Douglas County alone, crews are in the midst of building 23 bridges, a total that includes some of the large culverts that will channel creeks beneath the highway.

One day last week, blasting crews were perforating a hill south of North 500 Road with four-inch-wide holes, each cutting through 16 feet of soil to get into 8 feet of limestone. All that was left was to pour in 27 pounds of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, detonate, and remove the resulting crumbles for recycling and to use later in the project.

Then repeat the next day, and the next, and the next until cutting through two more hills on the way to Pleasant Grove Hill — which needs to come down some 80 feet — later this summer.

It’s a tall task that Bob Taylor, a licensed blaster for the Pexco contract crew on site, actually looks forward to.

“It’s easier, the deeper you get,” he said. “The rock’s better. Harder. The harder the rock, the better.”

Van Nice, KDOT’s construction manager, is looking forward to the future, too. The department’s studies to justify construction of the new highway included some sobering statistics:

• During the five years from 1995 through 1999, the stretch of highway had 376 accidents, of which 110 had injuries and nine involved fatalities. Eleven people died.

• The stretch had four fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled, compared with a rate of 2.7 fatalities on other, similar highways statewide.

“Hopefully we won’t have to hear any more about these fatalities that we’ve had over the history of the current roadway,” Van Nice said. “It’ll be just a tremendous, huge improvement.”


Sean Livingstone 8 years, 10 months ago

There isn't such a thing call "a safer road". Obviously, it's a media propaganda/hype, and a marketing tool to build a road across an environmentally sensitive area.

Most of the accidents are caused by the drivers, even though they could blame the road conditions. Now, don't tell me just because you build a "better" road, I can speed through the highway even when the conditions are less than ideal?

Here are the questions KDOT need to answer before they can claim that this highway is safer: What are the causes of the accidents on that stretch? What have your new designs done to decrease the rate of accidents base on the causes of accidents that you have found?

Obviously, KDOT cannot provide a good answer to the above questions. Why? Most of the accidents might have been due to drunk drivers, people who sped, some new drivers who don't obey the rules etc. There is no ways of tying their new design strategy to their new solutions. In short, it's just another marketing tool to promote the new highway. KDOT... please use other words than a "safer" highway... why? Because you'll be held to your words. Someone will keep this piece of news, and when the accident rates go up... they will write an article and publish right here... on LJ World or in a newspaper in Topeka.

Good luck!

momathoma 8 years, 10 months ago

Its nice that they are doing all this work to the highway, for my family and I travels on it frequently...but I have to ask where is the attention to the other high risk areas in and around lawrence?? take for instance highway 40 heading out 6th st towards topeka?? although most accidents are caused by driver error, better roads will help in the event someone does get in trouble and needs to bail off the husband died on highway 40 almost 5 years ago because he made a mistake and passed someone and there was nowhere to bail off the side of the road....more attention should be paid to all the high risk areas of each and every highway in order to help insure the safety of travelers everywhere. Hopefully the improvements will help decrease accidents on 59, but lets see some effort to help decrease them everywhere......

mae 8 years, 10 months ago

i dare someone to just try to graph this sentence:

Here in the middle, Jason Van Nice pores over a set of plans — hundreds of pages detailing locations for rock, concrete and steel that will form a new four-lane freeway, one with such limited access and improved sight lines and roadside shoulders that driver safety will be expected to rise, well, exponentially.

paragraphs and sentences are two separate things mark!

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

Isn't it true they decided to start construction in Franklin County because starting in Douglas County would've been met with protests, vandalism and lawsuits by the Earth Nazis?

Just wait until 50,000 cars are driving down 23rd Street everyday when 4 lane 59 opens. I think the citizens will be putting the nutjobs on a bus out of town so the SLT can get finished.

Kyle Miller 8 years, 10 months ago

As usual.... tons of responses from the liberal lawrence crowd (rolls eyes)

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

mae Thanks for the English lesson. Not! It was a good article, Mark. People screamed bloody murder when the tower down by the library was put up, but now no one even notices it. It is the same with every new thing.

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

livingstone (Anonymous) says…

"There isn't such a thing call “a safer road”."

A patently ludicrous statement. Having multiple lanes moving in one direction, allowing drivers to pass slower-moving vehicles without crossing over into the oncoming-traffic lanes, is inherently safer.

If more lanes doesn't make travel safer, stone, why is everyone clamoring for dedicated bicycle lanes?

"Obviously, KDOT cannot provide a good answer to the above questions."

Or they already did. If there's federal highway dollars in play, they justified it when they applied for the money. Someone within the DOT asked (and answered) those questions when the road was proposed. Many projects of this nature involve public input - do you know if any hearings were held for this project (and have you ever bothered to get off your lazy butt and attend one anyway)?

Believe it or not, projects that cost a couple of hundred million dollars generally aren't undertaken on a whim. The fact that nobody knocked on YOUR door and asked if you had any questions doesn't change the likelihood that they were asked. The fact that you don't know the answers doesn't mean the answers didn't justify the road improvements.

SandCoAlmanac 8 years, 10 months ago

Somewhat like tumbilweed, I wonder what happened to the families that used to live in Pleasant Grove. Is anyone there?

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

logrithmic (Anonymous) says…

"Enjoy your highway rightwingers."

Lordie but you're a tool, loggie. Only rightwingers drive cars? Only rightwingers buy the products that get delivered by truck?

By all means, let's do away with the roads, woodie. Then you fine folks in Larryville can see what it really costs to keep those empty buses on the road, when people from out of town stop driving to Lawrence and the sales tax dollars dry up. And I guess you could buy local, loghead - but as nobody around here manufactures computers, I guess we won't be seeing your posts any more (hey - bonus!).

"Slower speed limits and more patrols are a low cost way to ensure safety. Why was KDOT so resistant to putting up stoplights on the 2-lane road? Or even 4-way stops? Doesn't sound so “safe” to me."

Perhaps when you're old enough to drive you'll understand. A great deal of accidents happen at stop lights, loggie - one reason more and more toll roads are disappearing, because too many fatal accidents happen when someone's stopped on a highway. Yeah, better law enforcement - on a two-lane road without much for shoulders, let's have a police officer standing outside a stopped car over the crest of a hill or around a curve - now THAT'S safe.

"I encourage those going over to Olathe to drive down to Baldwin City and drive over to Gardner sometime."

I drive that way every single day, loghead. Have you? I haven't seen a single accident along that stretch since they raised the limit.

"Of course, no mention will be made of the huge intermodal truck depot planned for Gardner, you know, the one providing access from trucks coming north packed with goods from Mexico, the one our tax dollars are paying for without any kind of regional vote, the one that will require more 6-lane highways through the country side, and the one that will ultimately put more Americans out of work (unless they're willing to work for Mexican wages)."

Right. The goods will come in by rail, be transferred to trucks, and then those trucks - rather than just go up the entrance ramp to I-35 that's right there - will drive all the way west to Baldwin, north to Lawrence, then get on I-70 to go back east to I-35.

Believe it or not, smoker, your average truck driver isn't as stupid as someone who believes that's going to happen.

Mark Kostner 8 years, 10 months ago

Why is the speed limit on the brand new freeway only going to be 65, instead of 75 or at the very least 70? Decades ago I used to take this road to I-35 for the drive to South Central Kansas. The old road must have picked up a lot of traffic and must have gotten dangerous for a 55 speed limit on it.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

New 4 lane highways =faster driving not safer driving. K-10 is the absolute perfect example.

Many reckless 18 wheeler drivers will be crowding the highways. And tearing up the roadways = higher taxes.

New roads bring more traffic not safer traffic. New roads are pork barrel projects for the most part = higher taxes.

More snow removal and salt = higher taxes

More state troopers too control speeding drivers = more troopers = more trooper vehicles = more taxes

Richard Heckler 8 years, 10 months ago

"And you do realize that there wouldn't be talk of building a huge truck stop in Lawrence along those roads or bypass, it was in the Journal World a few months ago, in order to pick up that traffic if someone didn't expect the traffic don't you?"

Lawrence speculators once again. No solid reason or data to back it up. There was one at 23rd and Haskell that failed big time.

So long as the truck stop needs no tax dollars. It must a private venture through and through including the total cost of ALL new infrastructure.

timetospeakup 8 years, 10 months ago

@momathoma - I think the "fix" for getting to topeka is to take the turnpike. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't do that to avoid the meager tolls.

I would concur with another poster that suggested it get downgraded to a county road and "US 40" be diverted onto the turnpike. Anything to make it less appealing to commuters would help.

BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

blue73harley is a genius. Please don't bring this idea up in public again. If someone were to work behind the scenes to get this implimented....hmmm. Someone should make a "Let me ride my bike!" sign and put it up on the bridge to nowhere so the whole world will see what needs to be done....after awhile the so-called 'do-gooder' anti-SLT people will switch sides since they are such guillible twits....

Stuart Evans 8 years, 10 months ago

This is probably the best use of money I've seen from the gov't in a long long time. I use this road on a weekly basis. Every week it's another close call. From the old lady doing 45, to the young idiot doing 75 and passing on the solid yellow line. many of you are right, this road will not solve all accidents. But it will keep people from missing the stop sign and being T-boned by a passing truck, or running head-on into oncoming traffic. This road will give people more line of sight to avoid the deer that cross throughout. and it will give these homeowners a little more comfort when pulling out of their driveways.

I see plenty of naysayers on here, clammering about poor pleasant grove and it will never look the same, or why o why do we need more roads. If there weren't roads, you'd have probably never seen how pretty pleasant grove was to begin with.

to me, this new road increases my opportunity to arrive safely every time i go visit my daughter. and that makes it an important project in my book.

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

JackRipper (Anonymous) says…

"Oh nota, there you go again."

Wasn't Reagan famous for saying that?

Didn't Reagan have alzheimers?

"Doing away with roads?"

Hmmm. Musta' been some train-troll who rambles on incessantly about car ownership being immoral, how we wouldn't need roads if it weren't for some great government conspiracy to make us drive cars, how it's all the fault of Social Security and the Chinese and .... wait, that sounds like the stuff you keep saying, Jackie.

Since you're not too good on understanding posts, jackie, I was responding to someone who suggested not improving the road, but lowering the speed limit on the current one. Great plan! Let's make it an hour drive from Ottawa to Lawrence - I'm sure people will keep driving up there to spend their sales tax dollars to support the mT!

"So you try to come off as a conservative yet while we are trillions of dollars in debt we should be out building new super roads so you can get to that far away job faster and shame, shame, doing it putting us into more debt?"

Psssst: Hey jackie - believe it or not, I don't drive west to 59, north to Lawrence, and then back east to get to the KC metro. Maybe you do - but then, you're probably lost most of the time you're behind the wheel.

"Now you are sounding like a modern day conservative instead the kind I remember, typical boomer, take it all, you are entitled."

Uh huh. As someone who's on these message boards daily whining that not enough of my tax dollars are being used to support your lazy a**, jackie, that's pretty rich.

"And surely you have already heard about all the nasty truck traffic on 23rd that makes so many want to force the bypass through."

Um - jackie?

Where is that truck traffic coming west along 23rd street (hopefully soon along the bypass) coming from, again? The south, you say? What, they're driving west from Gardner past Baldwin, north to Lawrence, then what - they drive east along 23rd street, turn around, and come back?

Have you had that tinfoil adjusted recently, jackie?

"And to top it all off, check out peak oil, we are there"

Oh, forgot to mark my calendar. What day is that, again, jackie? Was that next Tuesday or next Wednesday? And was that before or after noon, 'cause I really would like to plan on whether I can go out to lunch before my car turns into a pumpkin.

"It is kind of hard to understand"

Most things are for you.

But what the heck - even though I've explained this to you a hundred or so times, let's try it again:

jackie, most people don't think like you. Most people don't think cars are the 'Great Satan.' Most people have chosen a lifestyle that gives them the freedom and flexibility and convenience to go where they want when they want. Most people aren't living in the 19th century any more, jackie.

notajayhawk 8 years, 10 months ago

none2 (Anonymous) says…

JackRipper (Anonymous) says…

Obviously, you aren't very familiar with roads and road safety especially in rural areas.

Obviously you aren't too familiar with jackie-boy's posts.

jackie is a pathetic whiner who believes some grand government conspiracy to push people into buying cars is the only reason we have roads at all - yes, he says we had no roads until the government convinced us to buy cars. He thinks we should all be willing to travel only where (and when) the trains will take us, like good little Marxists. Car ownership is immoral and unethical, commuting is a great evil, and we should all sacrifice (even if we don't have to) just to be like him and the rest of the 'Great Generation' had to during WWII.

He's amusing, but if you're going to try to argue with him, be ready for the long haul - he'll sit here and maniacally respond 3 or 4 times to every one of your posts, and while the incremental lunacy is sometimes amusing, it often leaves you feeling sorry for watching the output of a ravaged and wasted mind.

Sean Livingstone 8 years, 10 months ago


You don't have to study much or even attend any of these meetings.... if you're already the "expert" or "acting expert".

Making highways "larger", or "wider", do not reduce the number of casualties, but it does make a highway less stressful to drive. But reducing stress level isn't the same as reducing the total number of incidents or accidents.

There are lots of publications on highway safety, maybe you need some 101...

The four factors of accidents include: (1) Equipment Failure; (2) Roadway Sign; (3) Poor Roadway Maintenance; (4) Driver Behavior.

(1), (3) and (4) have little to do with the highway expansion. (2) Traffic flow's the closest: It states "Rural two-lane roadways are statistically the most dangerous because of a high incidence of deadly head-on collisions and the difficulty impatient drivers’ face while overtaking slower vehicles" that attributes to the impatience of the drivers and not the design of the highway. Even if I assume that the rural highway is more dangerous statistically, then read what they said.

They said: "The stretch had four fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled, compared with a rate of 2.7 fatalities on other, similar highways statewide." So similar rural highway had 2.7 fatalities and 4.0 for that stretch... what it means is that they thought that they assume the reason for the higher fatalities is mainly due to the design of the highway (which isn't really true since the statistics are compared to similar highways in the other regions).

If they do not know why fatalities are so high, how can they claim that it will reduce fatalities?

I'm not as lazy as you are dude. I know my stuffs before I write. The problem is people like to exploit science and make up all kinds of reasons for the things they do. This is one of the cookups. Safety isn't the reason.

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