Days after a tragic crossover crash on Kansas Highway 10 that killed two Eudora residents — including a 5-year-old boy — Eudora’s mayor asked Gov. Sam Brownback Wednesday to have the state place wire or cable barriers in the busy highway’s median.
“It’s just something that needs to be done. These people who make these decisions are sitting in Topeka,” Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson said Wednesday. “They don’t travel K-10. They don’t live next to K-10, and they just need to hear from all of us that this is a dangerous situation. Please fix it.”
Saturday afternoon, preschooler Cainan Shutt and 24-year-old Ryan M. Pittman died in the crash when Pittman’s eastbound Toyota Camry crossed the grassy median near the Church Street interchange into the westbound lanes and struck a minivan driven by Cainan’s stepgrandfather, Danny Basel.
Cainan’s sister, 23-month-old Courtlyn Shutt, is recovering from a broken neck at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and his grandmother, Ann Basel, is also recovering from broken bones and a head injury at Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., family members have said.
Kansas Highway Patrol troopers said they are still investigating the cause of the crash, including the possibility that drugs contributed after a preliminary autopsy indicated marijuana, benzodiazepine and methadone were in Pittman’s system.
But the fallout from the crash has produced a groundswell of support from people asking the Kansas Department of Transportation to install cable barriers along K-10’s median as a way to impede or slow down traffic that might cross over into the wrong lane. More than 1,100 people as of 6 p.m. Wednesday clicked “like” on a Facebook group started at 7 a.m. Tuesday by Eudora resident Jodi Jackson asking for the cable barriers.
Hopson in his letter mailed Wednesday asked Brownback to direct Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller to have her department begin work to install the barriers from Lawrence about 30 miles east to Interstate-435 in Johnson County.
KDOT officials said earlier this week that the section of K-10 did not qualify for the cable barriers in a 2008 study of the state’s four-lane highways but that K-10 would be considered again in a 2012 study.
The 2008 study was based on traffic and accident counts and the width of medians. For cable barrier installations, KDOT selected a 1-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 75 in Topeka and a 4-mile section of Kansas Highway 96 in Sedgwick County. The study also helped KDOT develop a policy on studying the future need for cable barriers, said KDOT spokeswoman Kim Qualls.
“All of the state highways will be reviewed again in 2012,” Qualls said. “It’s an every-three-year review.”
Hopson said he’s frustrated that the wrong-way crashes seem to be more frequent, citing two women who died in separate wrong-way crashes that occurred in August and October on K-10 near De Soto.
Qualls said KDOT officials would do research and respond to Hopson’s recent request. She said engineers re-evaluated and decided against any changes on K-10 after the Aug. 19 wrong-way fatality crash near De Soto.
According to KDOT, from 2000 to 2010, 19 people died and 756 were injured in 578 injury accidents on K-10 between Lawrence and Interstate-435. Four people died in accidents in 2000, which was the highest number of deaths in that span.
Dean Sicking, a University of Nebraska civil engineering professor who conducted the 2008 study, said cable barriers were installed on Interstate-70 east of Kansas City, Mo., for example, because the highway had a narrower median plus higher traffic and fatality rates than most Kansas highways.
But Hopson, who attended funerals for both Cainan Shutt and Pittman on Wednesday, said things seemed to be getting worse and called Saturday’s wreck “the last straw.”
“I can tell you now that the death toll on this stretch of road has exceeded our community’s benefit cost ratio and that we request barriers to be installed immediately,” Hopson wrote in his letter to Brownback.
The Eudora mayor said he was also asking for city leaders in Lawrence, De Soto, Olathe, Overland Park and Lenexa to sign on.
Lawrence Mayor Aron Cromwell said he would favor the city sending a similar letter and said he expected city commissioners to discuss it Tuesday. Danny and Ann Basel, Cainan Shutt’s grandparents, both work in the city of Lawrence’s Public Works Department.
Cromwell said he would favor some type of barrier in the K-10 median based on the number of commuters, especially students who commute to go to either Kansas University or Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.
“That’s something that we want them to take a look at and see if it can be done economically,” Cromwell said. “But it certainly would increase the safety of the road, especially at a time when they’re looking at increasing the speed limit on K-10.”
The Kansas Legislature recently passed a law increasing the maximum speed limit allowed on Kansas four-lane highways from 70 to 75, but Qualls said KDOT would put in significant study before deciding to increase the speed limit on K-10 or any stretch of road.
“We’ve done speed limit studies there as well,” Qualls said. “Everyone knows there’s lots of traffic out there that does drive increased speeds, and law enforcement is out there trying to enforce that.”