Sunday blog: How the KDOT decides what is best for travelers on U.S. 160

Tracy McCue

Commentary by Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — We had an interesting debate in the comment section of our Sumner Newscow main site after the unfortunate automobile rollover at McDonalds on U.S. 160 and Boundary Monday.

Luckily, no one was significantly hurt. But it did look gristly enough to get people talking. Instinctively, people look for solutions. It’s human nature.

Some think stop lights are essential especially at either the McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and/or the Wellington High School intersections. Some seem to think reducing the speed limit is required. 

Of course, somehow the roundabout gets caught up in the argument, although the wreck was a little more than a mile away. I had to laugh. The roundabout has replaced the new Wellington High School complex for every thing that goes wrong in the community. Wrecks a mile away? The roundabout’s fault. High city electric rates? The roundabout’s fault. High unemployment? The roundabout’s fault. World hunger? The roundabout’s fault. Wellington losing Friday night. The roundabout’s fault.

Anyway, getting back on topic, I decided to call Allen Grunder, the area engineer at the Kansas Department of Transportation office in Winfield, to ask him what gives. Is there a way to make the U.S. 160 highway from the roundabout (grrrr…) to the Kansas Turnpike safer?

Grunder said speed limits and stop lights are determined by a plethora of factors that go into a formula set up by the Kansas Department of Transportation. The formula is based on a number of accidents at an intersection, the number of drivers who pass through, and the average speed of the drivers. KDOT never alleviates from the formula, whether it is in east Wellington or downtown Wichita or Timbuktu.

He said it is all incumbent on traffic flow. The safest roads are the one’s in which the largest percentage of drivers are all driving the same speed.

“The problem you get into is the variation of how fast people drive,” Grunder said. “We determine speed limits based on how 85 percent of the traffic will naturally drive down that road.”

If drivers are going west from the turnpike they will have a 65 mph speed limit until they reach the KOA Kampground where the speed limit is reduced to 55. The speed limit drops to 50 west of McDonald’s and by the time drivers get to the roundabout (grrrr…) the speed limit is at 35. It gets down to 30 thereafter.

Grunder said if you took out all of the speed limit signs, 85 percent of the traffic would use those speeds anyway. They would come in 65 mph and naturally reduce their speed to the 30 mph level based on the traffic and businesses or whatever.

“Think about driving in the country,” Grunder said. “You might only go 55 to 65 mph out there not because of the traffic, but because you worry about hitting a deer or whatever. The drivers determine the speed limits.”

Grunder said where the problems come in is the variation of speeds. The driver who goes 85 mph in a 65 mph zone is of course a hazard. But the little old man driving 30 mph in the 65 mph zone is just as much of a hazard.

“Anytime a driver has to put on his brakes, it becomes a more unsafe traffic environment,” Grunder said.

Which brings us to the stop lights. Grunder said stop lights are important in very busy intersections but must enhance the flow of traffic not hinder it. Again, it depends on speed variations.

“Many accidents occur when people speed up to beat a traffic light and rear end the person in front of them, because they are not paying attention,” Grunder said. “Stop lights don’t necessarily make the intersection safer.”

That isn’t to say the east corridor is perfect. Wellington just recently was awarded two KDOT funding grants for turning lanes: one at the 8th Street and G (the viaduct) and 16th Street and Woodlawn, which are for intersections with more than 12 accidents in a three-year period. Both intersections have stop lights. The costs of those projects, a 90-10 percent split with KDOT, is $55,000 at 8th and G and $150,000 at 16th and Woodlawn.

KDOT does studies based on requests. Twice, the Wellington City Council has asked about possibilities of stop lights at the Walmart entrance and the school entrance. Both times KDOT turned them down. Neither intersection met the KDOT criteria of putting in a light.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen on October 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I don’t mean to veer off the subject (no pun intended) – the intersection by McDonald’s is a big concern. However, my big concern is when I see pedestrian traffic, motorized wheelchairs, etc. traveling along the side of Hwy 160 going to and from Walmart. I brought this to the attention of a City Department Head who wasn’t aware that this might be a problem. I cringe at the thought that the City of Wellington won’t provide walking paths until there is a tragic accident.

  2. Posted by Patty Malcolm on October 22, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    WOW! What a bunch of idiots! Let them come here & review it for themselves! Let them drive in that death stretch!

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