Mayor wants plan before requesting KDOT lower highway speed limit
The city of Tonganoxie will develop a plan before once again requesting the state reduce speed limits on U.S. Highway 24-40 on the eastern entrance to the city.
The issue surfaced with the Tonganoxie City Council’s discussion and rejection of a Kansas Department of Transportation corridor management grant of up to $2 million for construction of safety improvements to Laming Road and Stone Creek/South Park intersections at the highway. Last month, the council decided to pass on applying for the grant because it was feared the city couldn’t afford the estimated $280,000 in right of way acquisition, utility relocation and engineering and out of fear the proposed plan — which would have eliminated cross traffic turns at the Stone Creek/South Park intersection — would harm businesses at the Stone Creek retail center.
Instead, the council endorsed the solution favored by business owners in the area of reducing the speed limit in the eastern approach to the Creek/South Park intersection from 65 to 45 mph.
At the Oct. 24 Tonganoxie City Council meeting, Councilman Bill Peak said he was organizing a letter- writing effort in support of that move, while Councilman Dennis Bixby said he made representatives of U.S. Senator Jerry Moran’s office aware of the need to change the speed limit.
City Administrator Mike Yanez proposed the council invite the regional KDOT engineer to a future meeting to explain the department’s reasoning for maintaining the 65 mph speed limit on the highway east of the Stone Creek/South Park intersection. The city has annually requested the speed limit be reduced on the highway east of the intersection only to see KDOT routinely reject it.
The council could also formally request the speed limit change and advocate for a speed limit study from KDOT at the meeting the engineer attended, Yanez said.
Mayor Jason Ward said the city needed to do its homework before scheduling such a meeting. The council needed to have a plan explaining where the speed limit should be changed, to what speed and why the change was needed. He appointed Police Chief Jeff Brandau and Fire Chief Dave Bennett to study the issue, seek public involvement and make recommendations.
Yanez agreed such a rational plan should be in place because speed limits were based on engineering and not political decisions.
Although he said he wasn’t familiar with the Tonganoxie situation, Steven Buckley, KDOT state highway safety engineer, said a study would have to justify a reduced speed limit. He also prefaced his remarks by stating the No. 1 consideration in setting speed limits was safety.
To that end, KDOT doesn’t arbitrarily reduce speed limits because such action might not improve safety, Buckley said.
“When it comes to setting speed limits, the safest speed is the 85 percentile speed,” he said.
That speed is the rate 85 percent of motorists will choose to drive on a stretch of roadway, Buckley said. Arbitrarily setting the speed limit well below that level could increase danger because “highly prudent” drivers would slow to that speed while 85 percent could continue to drive at what feels like the proper speed, he said.
The safest speed limit establishes a uniform flow, Buckley said. KDOT determines that speed through a traffic study that identifies the 85 percentile speed and examines other factors, such as crash history, he said.
Although again he didn’t address the Tonganoxie situation specifically, Buckley said the corridor management grant, which would have made $2 million available for safety improvements to the Laming Road and Stone Creek/South Park intersections on the highway, was specifically meant to improve intersection access to reduce crashes.
Buckley did express reservations about the council’s decision not to apply for the grant because the improvements’ negative consequences on businesses in the Stone Creek business park.
“Studies have shown access management when applied correctly doesn’t have a negative effect on neighboring businesses,” he said.