Eudora The Kansas Department of Transportation will install cable median barriers along two 2-mile stretches of Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence, including a section where 5-year-old Cainan Shutt of Eudora died in April.
On Wednesday morning, KDOT Deputy Secretary Jerry Younger announced the $800,000 project likely to begin next summer in Eudora. The decision was made after a committee of local stakeholders had met with state officials for months to discuss the highway’s safety east of Lawrence in the wake of the April 16 double fatality near Eudora.
“That committee helped get us to a point that makes sense,” Younger said, “to take some actions that make sense.”
Cainan’s grandmother, committee member Carrie Lawrence of Overland Park, sat in the audience at the Eudora Community Center and pumped her fist as her eyes teared up when Younger announced plans for the project. She also clutched her daughter, Alison Shutt, the mother of Cainan and Courtlynn Shutt, 2, who suffered a spinal fracture in the crash.
Ryan Pittman, 24, also died when his vehicle crossed the median and struck head-on the minivan the children’s stepgrandfather, Danny Basel, was driving. Basel and his wife, Ann, were also injured.
Alison Shutt and hundreds of people had formed a group, “Cables for Cainan,” in the wake of the crash, and urged the state to install the cable barriers to help prevent cross-median crashes. K-10 is a busy commuter highway between Lawrence and suburban Kansas City.
“We’re very happy with today’s steps,” Shutt said. “I do think it’s just the beginning because, of course, I believe the whole highway needs to have cables, but I think this was a great step. And I’m happy that this went forward today.”
KDOT formed the local committee of Douglas County and Johnson County officials and residents after Eudora Mayor Scott Hopson wrote a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback following the April crash asking Brownback to direct KDOT to install cable along the median from the eastern edge of Lawrence to 23 miles east at Interstate 435 in Johnson County.
Exchanges were often tense after the crash, but Shutt and Hopson both indicated they were happy with the state’s decision Wednesday. Younger said the process of involving local stakeholders helped immensely.
“This is something that everyone in this community thought that it was kind of like David and Goliath. We were going up against the state of Kansas,” Hopson said. “And the state of Kansas basically shook our hand and said, ‘hey, we’re going to work with you on this project.’ It proved everyone wrong, and we’re very thankful for that.”
Johnson County commissioners, including committee member Jim Allen, a former Shawnee mayor, earlier this summer proposed a pilot project similar to what KDOT adopted. It was to install cable median barriers along the two stretches where multiple cross-median crash fatalities had occurred in the last decade.
Younger said KDOT will begin preparing a process to solicit bids to install the cable median barrier between Eudora’s Church Street and East 2300 Road exits in Douglas County and for two miles near the Kansas Highway 7 interchange in Johnson County. He said they were two sections that had experienced a high number of cross-median crashes. Cables are utilized heavily as safety measures aimed at preventing cross-median crashes in other states, including Missouri. Before Wednesday KDOT had only authorized two other cable median projects, near Topeka and Wichita.
KDOT is currently widening shoulders and adding rumble strips to them while doing repaving work on K-10 in Douglas County. Younger said he hoped that project would wrap up in the next couple of weeks.
As for the cable installation, he said KDOT typically has a nine-month process to collect information to design a project and solicit bids.
“We’re going to try to compress that time frame as best as we can, maybe into six or seven months,” Younger said. “But even with that, we’re probably looking at construction in the middle or end of the next summer.”
Some members of the K-10 committee had recommended KDOT install four more miles of a cable median barrier, from Eudora east to De Soto, but Clay Adams, KDOT’s northeast Kansas area engineered who was a co-chairman of the committee, said there was an even split on support for the two plans.
“It made more sense to KDOT to concentrate on this 2-mile section at Eudora,” Adams said.
Much of the committee’s work centered on the cable median barrier, but KDOT said it will also lobby the Kansas Legislature to designate K-10 as a “highway safety corridor,” making it eligible for more enforcement and increased fines for traffic violations. Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, is expected to work on the legislation.
Younger said in the meantime, KDOT will also explore ways to add extra law enforcement on K-10, possibly through providing funding to local law enforcement agencies.
Johnson County had offered initially to pay for 20 percent of the project near Kansas Highway 7, and Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she expected to get a similar request from the state. But Younger said Wednesday KDOT will pick up the entire cost of the project.
“From the beginning the cost was never an issue for KDOT,” Younger said.
Once the cables are in place, KDOT officials will monitor how they work because their use could have an impact on statewide policy.
“Obviously we’re going to look at how they perform over time and if indeed they take care of the cross-median events,” Younger said. “We’ll kind of monitor how they work in this area. We’ll continue to work on and look at crash history throughout the state, work on our policy, adjust and modify how it seems fit.”
Alison Shutt said her mother and other committee members helped notify KDOT officials of other cross-median crashes that occurred on K-10 that weren’t showing up in statistics.
“This hopefully will save lives, and I would like to see KDOT in the future add on to these cable barriers,” said Hopson, the Eudora mayor and committee’s other co-chairman. “Maybe some day we could have them the full length of the highway.”
Shutt on Wednesday spoke to reporters and clutched her daughter, who has now healed from her injuries.
“She’s made a full recovery much quicker than anyone thought she would,” Shutt said. “The doctors were very impressed with her recovery.”
She also called her son a “super hero.”
“I think just Cainan would be really proud that this all happened after our accident, and that he’s able to make a difference for people,” she said. “I think he’d be really proud of that.”