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Baldwin City to make application for KDOT grant to improve safety at Eighth Street highway crossing

November 3, 2015

The Baldwin City Council on Monday asked city staff to move forward with a grant applicant that would improve safety at the Eighth Street/U.S. Highway 56 intersection.

In doing so, the council asked Baldwin City Public Works director Bill Winegar to seek a transportation enhancement grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation that would replace the current sidewalk from Sixth to 11th streets south of the highway with an 8-foot-wide multi-use trail. The new trail would link up with the just-completed multi-use trail from 11th Street to the Baldwin Educational Center Intermediate Center. The grant also would ask KDOT for help to upgrade the pedestrian signal on the highway at Eighth Street.

Winegar said the project would cost an estimated $374,000. The grant could provide up to 80 percent of the cost of the proposed improvements, Winegar said.

That plan was one of three options Winegar presented the council, which were developed at recent meetings of the Council’s public safety committee. That committee has been looking into ways to improve safety at the highway’s Eighth Street pedestrian crossing out of concern the new multi-use trail to BESIC will spur more student pedestrian traffic at the intersection.

What all plans shared were a concern about the inadequacy of the current push-button yellow flashing pedestrian caution light at the highway’s Eighth Street intersection. The simplest and cheapest option presented the council was the replacement of the current light with a HAWK signal. That is a push-button signal that would be suspended horizontally above the highway and first flash yellow and then stop traffic with a red light, Winegar said. He estimated that would cost $115,000 but added KDOT didn’t favor a HAWK signal at the site because such signals were designed for mid-street applications and not at intersections. It was not an option for the city to install such a light on its own because KDOT must sign off on all traffic controls on the highway.

Another option considered would install the multi-use trail on the north side of the highway from Sixth Street to just west of 11th Street, where a HAWK signal would be installed so that pedestrian and bike traffic could access the recently completed trail to BESIC. That option would cost an estimated $354,000,

In arguing against that proposal, assistant public works director Dave Flipse said the addition of another traffic control signal on the highway was unlikely to gain KDOT’s favor. Grant application features that improved bike and pedestrian traffic would be viewed favorably, while those that put additional impediments to highway traffic would be downgraded, he said.

That led to Flipse and Winegar’s recommendation of the first option, which would link the newly installed multi-use trail to existing trail along Sixth Street. To get around KDOT’s objection to a HAWK signal, the grant application would ask that the Eighth Street crossing light be improved, allowing KDOT to make suggestions on how that might be done. They noted the option was neutral as far as traffic flow as it would not add another traffic control signal to the highway.

Winegar said he and Flipse would present the application to KDOT officials on Nov. 20. It would probably be next spring before the city learned the application’s fate, he said. With engineering and other paperwork, it would take three to four years before the improvements were made, he said.

One positive was that nearly all the right-of-way was in place to install a new 8-foot multi-use trail from Sixth to 11th streets, Winegar said.

Should the grant not be approved in this round, the city could reapply in future grant openings, Winegar said.

Earlier in the meeting, several residents of the city’s northeast side questioned features of another KDOT grant application the city is seeking. That corridor management grant application would adjust Eisenhower and Third streets so that they aligned at the same intersection on U.S. 56. It would also eliminate current highway access from Second, Elm and Washington streets, a proposal that Sandy Lundry and Ginny Meinen said they and other area residents living north and south of the highway opposed.

The proposed changes would funnel traffic to a narrow Eisenhower Street, which is heavily traveled by high school students driving to school, they said. Residents north of the highway would have to use that street or a gravel road to access the highway, they said.

They worried the closures would create problems for emergency vehicles called to the neighborhoods and decrease home values. They said they walked the neighborhoods to find out what residents thought about the proposed changes and gauge support for a petition drive opposing the elimination of highway access of Elm, Second and Washington streets.

Mayor Marilyn Pearse and Winegar said the city was seeking the grant with the hopes of making the alignment changes to Eisenhower and Third streets. If those two streets met the highway at a common corner, the city could seek a crosswalk signal at the intersection to protect students crossing the highway to and from school, they said.

It was KDOT that proposed eliminating highway access from Elm and Second streets to decrease the number of unprotected intersections on the highway serving an increasing amount of traffic, Winegar said. Those plans were developed in a corridor management study completed about a decade ago and which now makes funds available for improvements to the corridor.

Funds from that same source made possible this year’s realignment of the U.S. 56/High Street intersection and the realignment two years ago of the 1600 Road intersection on the highway.

The plans weren’t set in stone, and KDOT made the proposals without knowledge or consideration of such factors as the Baldwin school campus to the north or the Baker sports complex to the south, Pearse said.

The mayor and Winegar said the city shared many of Lundry and Meinen’s concerns and said a petition would be helpful in making KDOT reconsider its plans. However, they suggested such a petition drive wait until the city learned the fate of its application. The mayor promised the residents would be kept informed of when the proposed realignment was on the council’s agenda.

It would be an issue the council considered multiple time in the years ahead, Pearse and Winegar said, noting the council first considered the current High Street highway realignment four years ago.

Originally published at: http://www.baldwincity.com/news/2015/nov/03/baldwin-city-make-application-kdot-grant-improve-s/