It has been a subject of controversy and frustration for many years.
Concerns about heavy traffic, the high costs of accidents and the speed of the vehicles involved have made the intersection of 159th East and U.S. Highway 54 a dangerous one.
By the time winter rolls around, however, these issues should be resolved. That’s because a Kansas Department of Transportation project will hopefully exacerbate those concerns.
Originally scheduled to have begun July 9, the start date was pushed back to July 12. A KDOT spokesman said the primary contractor, Cornejo and Sons, was not ready to start July 9.
The contractor was to have moved in Wednesday night. For the first few days, work will be during the evening hours to lay asphalt for temporary driving lanes and install a concrete barrier wall.
“This project has been on KDOT’s radar screen for many years because of the high traffic count and the accident history at the intersection,” according to Wichita KDOT public information officer Tom Hein.
The intersection improvement will provide longer turning lanes and traffic signals that will allow for protected left turns from all four directions. The project will also require a box bridge on eastbound U.S. 54 west of the intersection to be widened.
City of Andover Public Works Director Les Manges said the accident rate at this location isn’t particularly high. But the cost of property damage from crashes is, because of the speed differentials in the vehicles involved. If you are waiting to turn left onto 159th East from U.S. 54, it can be difficult – and dangerous – getting up enough speed from a standing start to safely clear oncoming traffic.
“The biggest complaint is probably just the fear factor of left-turning vehicles crossing into the 60 mph traffic stream,” Manges said. “Left-turn delays aren't terribly long considering the traffic volume.”
Manges said traffic count at this intersection averages about 30,000 vehicles a day, a number that is in line with KDOT studies. Hein said the daily average is about 36,000 vehicles a mile west of the intersection (143rd East) and 26,000 vehicles a mile east of it (Andover Road).
From 2007 to 2011, KDOT reported 48 accidents occurred on U.S. 54 within 300 feet each side of 159th. Half of the accidents resulted in property damage only. Forty-two people were injured in 23 accidents. There was one fatal accident in 2010 that killed two people.
According to Andover Police Chief Michael Keller, the Kansas Highway Patrol investigated the 2010 fatality. To the best of his recollection, that accident was not related to the intersection itself, but rather to erratic driving some distance from the intersection. Prior to that, Keller said the last fatal accident in this area was about 20 years ago and also was not related to the intersection itself.
Page 2 of 2 - Regardless of statistics, this intersection has been a source of concern for many years.
“We’ve received complaints from citizens for as along as I can remember, and we passed the complaints on to KDOT,” Andover City Administrator Sasha Stiles said. “Citizens were frustrated that we didn’t do anything about it, but we couldn’t because we didn’t have the money to do the project alone.”
An evaluation by KDOT at the end of a 10-year program cycle confirmed the need to make the changes. About that time, however, is when the recession hit, and KDOT did not have the funds to complete the project.
“We needed to have the design work (preliminary engineering) done before the project could start,” Hein said. “We didn’t have extra money for the design work which delayed the project.”
Stiles said KDOT acknowledged the safety concerns of this location when it came to them about the project.
“KDOT said if Wichita and Andover would fund the preliminary development, they would fund the project,” she said.
And that is what happened, with each city paying $100,000 for the engineering study. Andover’s portion came from its 1-cent sales tax designated for street improvement.
Four jurisdictions have an interest in this intersection: the cities of Wichita and Andover, and the counties of Sedgwick and Butler. Yet only two collaborated to get the ball rolling.
“The driving force for moving the project forward was Andover and Wichita stepping forward and funding preliminary engineering at a time when KDOT could not,” Hein said.
The cities will continue their partnership after the project is completed, which is scheduled for late November. Wichita will maintain the new traffic signals, while Andover will pay for the electricity to run them.
The project will cost $1,066,531.16, with 90 percent coming from federal aid and 10 percent from state funds. Once the temporary lanes and barriers are ready, work will be done during daylight hours, Monday through Friday. Two lanes of traffic will be maintained for both directions on U.S. 54, but left turns will not be allowed onto 159th East during the project.