Mayor supports signal at highway intersection
Winter evening. Rush hour. A steady stream of headlights pouring into Tonganoxie from the east.
After looking for oncoming traffic at the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and Laming Road, Adam Freeman, turned onto the highway. Although Adam doesn't remember what happened next, his girlfriend, Katie Morton, does. Katie was in the front passenger seat.
"All I saw was the car coming and I remember smashing up against the window and we woke up in the ditch," Katie said recently.
Adam's door took the brunt of the crash. The impact pitched him across the car.
"I was really scared," Katie said. "And then afterward I was even more scared -- my boyfriend fell on top of me and was having
seizures -- they think he went into shock."
Miraculously, the Jan. 13th collision claimed no lives. But Katie and Adam said the intersection is a tragedy waiting to happen.
"During rush hour, it's really busy and you really can't see anything," said Katie, who was 17 at the time of the wreck. "There were four people in the car and none of us saw it."
John Putthoff, Tonganoxie's acting police chief, agrees a traffic device of some sort may be necessary to improve safety at this intersection, as well as at the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and Main Street.
Putthoff noted the area's growth -- and the increase in traffic -- since the highway was widened to four lanes in 1998.
According to records at Tonganoxie Police Department, the most dangerous intersections along U.S. Highway 24-40 in Tonganoxie are at Laming Road, Main Street and Fourth Street, which is the juncture of 24-40 and Kansas Highway 16.
The police department's numbers reflect only the accidents worked by the police department -- not the ones that were handled by Kansas Highway Patrol.
From 1999 through 2003, the police department worked 10 accidents at Laming Road, 23 accidents at Main Street and 42 at Fourth Street.
Of the 42 accidents at the Fourth Street intersection, 38 occurred from 1999 through 2002. In early 2003, construction to widen the intersection and install new turn signals was completed. During 2003, according to police department numbers, only four accidents were reported at the intersection.
Kansas Department of Transportation traffic counts support Putthoff's observation on the increase in traffic.
Counts taken at the intersection of Ridge Road and U.S. Highway 24-40 (just about 1/4 mile west of Laming Road) show:
- 9,500 vehicles in a 24-hour period in 1999.
- 10,120 vehicles in a 24-hour period in 2001.
- 12,575 vehicles in a 24-hour period in 2003.
KDOT traffic technician Terry Barnes said the most recent traffic count at U.S. Highway 24-40 and Laming Road was taken in 1995. That count showed 2,000 vehicles on the highway during a 24-hour period. The prior year, in 1994, the same location showed 2,165 vehicles.
"Leavenworth County will be counted again before the first of July," Barnes said. "Laming is one street that's due to be counted."
David Church, KDOT's bureau chief of traffic engineering, said if his department found a stoplight was needed at that intersection -- or at any other intersection in Tonganoxie -- it would be at least two years until installation was complete.
"Let's say the city of Tonganoxie asked us to look at this intersection specifically tomorrow," Church said.
It would take two or three months for KDOT to collect information, look at the accidents and make a recommendation.
Then, if they've decided a stoplight is needed, KDOT would have to determine if funds are available.
In a city the size of Tonganoxie, Church said, it's likely the city would pay 10 to 20 percent of the cost, and the state would pick up the rest.
"If funds were available, it would take around 12 months to actually put together plans, have it let to a contractor, and then it's going to take a little while for the contractor to install it," Church said.
If there's an indication that more than one stoplight may be needed, it would behoove a city to request more than one stoplight at once, because KDOT could collect all the data at the same time. Church noted that generally, stoplights are put at least a half-mile apart.
And they're not cheap.
"Just the signal itself is going to run $100,000, and that's just for the poles and all the equipment that's needed to put in the signal," Church said.
If pavement geometrics are added, such as turn lanes, the cost quickly escalates.
"You're probably looking at $250,000 for the geometrics and the signal combined," Church added.
The price of a life
Tonganoxie mayor Dave Taylor said Friday that he planned to ask the city to request that KDOT look into the possibility of installing one or two stoplights.
Taylor's main concern is the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and Main Street, where new street lamps soon should be installed to improve the intersection's visibility at night for motorists.
"We're getting new lighting put up, but that's not going to solve the problem," Taylor said. "People have to dart across there to make it on the other side, either direction."
Taylor also expressed concern that some sort of stoplight needs to be installed at the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and Laming Road, so that emergency vehicles, housed at the nearby county annex, will be able to pull out onto the highway.
Taylor, who has lived in Tonganoxie since 1985, said area residents are concerned about highway safety.
"When I'm out and about, one of the biggest things people really do talk about is the need for a stoplight," Taylor said.
However, Taylor said, he hopes the Basehor-Tonganoxie area won't end up with too many stoplights, which he said would slow traffic.
But still, he said, something needs to be done in Tonganoxie.
"I think since I've been here I would be safe in saying it's probably doubled, almost tripled," Taylor said. "Since they put in four lanes, it's really increased the traffic."
It would be a good investment for the city to help pay for new stoplights, Taylor said, adding:
"It does cost money, but what do you put on the price of a life."