KDOT pledges $550,000 to make school intersection safer
The Kansas Department of Transportation has agreed to spend $550,000 to fix a dangerous intersection near the Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center.
The intersection of U.S. Highway 56 and East 1600 Road is one of 13 sites in the state that will receive funding as part of KDOT’s corridor management plan, which works to address traffic problems that arise on busy roads.
For Baldwin City residents, concerns over safety at the intersection were exacerbated in August when the newly built school opened.
Each morning, traffic backs up in the westbound lane of U.S. 56 as drivers wanting to turn onto the road that leads to the school must stop and wait for oncoming traffic to pass. Because the intersection is on a hill and at a spot with poor sight distance, residents fear a high-speed rear-end collision.
KDOT’s $550,000 would cover the construction costs of extending U.S. 56’s existing three-lane highway through Baldwin City by 640 feet. That three-lane road would allow for a left-hand turn lane at the East 1600 Road intersection.
Work on the intersection is slated for the summer of 2013. KDOT had considered completing the project sooner but wanted to incorporate the upgrades into another U.S. 56 project that would replace bridges along that stretch of road, said Jessica Upchurch, who is KDOT’s corridor management engineer.
KDOT would cover the construction costs while local communities would have to come up with the money to cover the design of the project, utility relocation and right-of-way purchase. The cost to local governments is estimated at $140,000.
Last fall, Douglas County Commissioners agreed to cover up to 60 percent of the local governments’ portion of the project, but only if Baldwin City and the school district would cover the rest. Baldwin City later agreed to cover the other 40 percent, even though the intersection is just outside its city limits.
The school district’s legal counsel has said because the school district doesn’t own land immediately adjacent to the road, it can’t legally spend tax dollars to improve it.
“It is of interest to our school board, but they just want to make sure they can do what they can legally do,” Superintendent Paul Dorathy said.
When the school district was in the planning process of building the school, neither KDOT nor consultants who did a traffic study anticipated problems with the intersection, Dorathy said.
At that time, KDOT advised dropping the speed limit to 45 mph and extending the school zone further west. Both were done.
Since the school opened, Dorathy said he hasn’t heard of any accidents at the intersection. Still, he said the improvements will help drivers feel safer.
“It will lessen the chance of an accident occurring there,” he said.