Johnson County commissioners propose project to install K-10 cable-median barriers

? Members of the Johnson County Commission on Thursday proposed a pilot project to install cable-median barriers along Kansas Highway 10 in two spots between Lawrence east to Lenexa.

Commissioner Jim Allen, of Shawnee, said the proposal includes the state installing two miles of cable near K-10 and Kansas Highway 7 in Johnson County and for a one-mile stretch near Eudora, after two residents, including 5-year-old Cainan Shutt, were killed in an April 16 cross-median crash there.

Accident report

An updated accident report from the Kansas Highway Patrol includes drug test results for Ryan Pittman, the Eudora man who was driving an eastbound car April 16 that drifted across the median of Kansas Highway 10 near the Church Street exit and collided with a westbound minivan.

Pittman and 5-year-old Cainan Shutt, of Eudora, both died in the crash that also injured Shutt’s 2-year-old sister, Courtlynn, and Shutt’s grandparents, Danny and Ann Basel.

A toxicology report signed by Deputy Coroner Dr. Donald Pojman indicates Pittman tested positive for a therapeutic level of methadone, an elevated level of tramadol and the active components of marijuana.

“The report further states that all three of these drugs can cause physical and cognitive impairment,” according to the KHP report.

Troopers earlier had said the drugs would have caused Pittman’s response time to be slow. Troopers also listed Pittman’s inattentive driving and driving on a suspended license as contributing factors. Pittman’s autopsy report summary also indicated “there was no natural disease process that would have contributed to this accident.”

Danny Basel, who drove the minivan, had no alcohol in his system, according to the report.

“Our residents are concerned about this and want us to come up with some type of solution,” said Allen, who is also a member of an area group studying K-10’s safety with the Kansas Department of Transportation in the wake of the April crash.

The Johnson County proposal estimates the two-mile stretch of cable in Johnson County would cost $250,000 and $125,000 in Douglas County. Allen said Johnson County would seek to provide the state 20 percent of the funds for the Johnson County stretch.

Gov. Sam Brownback ordered KDOT officials to work with Johnson County and Douglas County residents and officials to study whether to install cable-median barriers on K-10, although KDOT would make the final decision. KDOT said in a 2008 study that K-10 did not meet a threshold to install cable-median barriers based on traffic counts and the highway’s median width.

Advocates for the cable say K-10 has become dangerous for the number of cross-median crashes at high speeds. In May, KDOT officials said K-10 had 11 fatalities resulting from 10 cross-median crashes since 2000, compared with 104 fatalities from 89 cross-median crashes on all Kansas four-lane highways.

Dean Sicking, a University of Nebraska civil engineering professor who conducted the 2008 study, said cable-median barriers are “not a panacea” and still can cause deaths and injuries. He urged the committee to study the two spots targeted for the pilot project proposal.

“It has to be based on reality and based on engineering principles,” said Sicking, who spoke to the study group Thursday, “so that we can be reasonably sure that when we do go out and spend money to make the highway safer, we do make it safer. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Allen said the two sections identified as part of the pilot study do warrant a cable-median barrier because more than one cross-median fatality accident have occurred in those two spots since 2000.

“We want to see something happen immediately, and to me at least to do something incrementally and address at least where we know we have a high-impact fatality area,” Allen said.

The study group will meet again next month.