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Commission votes to improve accident-prone two-way stop
Meanwhile, discussions will continue, perhaps leading to making it a four-way stop
new deh county commission intersection parents pic web
Barton County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz, left, talks to Heather and Steve Weber, parents of Shealee Stover, the girl killed in car crash April 17 at North Washington and NE 30 Road, during Monday's commission meeting. The commission approved improved safety measures at the corner and will discuss further changes as well. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at glance 

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

• Approved revamping the intersection of North Washington Avenue and North 30 Road while keeping it a two-way stop. The matter will be discussed further.

• Approved a proclamation marking May as National Bike Month.

• Approved a proclamation marking May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

• Approved improvements to the County Treasurer’s Office. Thomas Quality Homes provided the lowest bid of $13,743.80 and do the work. At less than 100 square feet, the interior office space used by the County Treasurer is inadequate for his current needs, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said. Bids were received to move two walls to expand the office space, upgrade the electrical and install LED lighting. 

• Heard a report on the 2018 tax sale filing from County Treasurer Jim Jordan. On April 23, the 2018 tax sale petition was filed with the Clerk of the District Court. Subsequent to the filing, the county will send each party to the sale a summons, a copy of the petition and the corresponding limited Certificate of Title by certified mail. To avoid having a property sold at auction, taxpayers must pay all taxes from, generally, 2014 forward and a redemption fee of $186, Jordan said.

He started with 240 properties on the list, but 80 of those have been removed.

• Held the annual review of the Solid Waste Management Plan, reapproving it with no changes. Per state law, Barton County is required to form and maintain a Solid Waste Planning Committee to develop and perform an annual review of the Solid Waste Management Plan, which is then approved by the commission. As the Solid Waste Management Plan had a comprehensive review last year, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said no changes were recommended. 

This marks the second year of what is a five-year plan as required by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 

• Commissioners gave reports on the Kansas County Commissioners Association Annual Conference last week in Wichita. The conference, entitled Point. Counterpoint., included such topics as the obligations of elected officials, immigration issues, taxation, cybersecurity and executive sessions. County Appraiser Barb Esfeld participated on a panel dealing with property appraisals.

In light of a recent fatality crash at the intersection of North Washington Avenue and North 30 Road, the Barton County Commission approved taking steps to improve the existing two-way stop while looking at additional improvements down the road. Approved changes included better signage and white lines denoting where to stop.

Additional changes could include extending the 45-mile-per-hour speed limit in place on North Washington south of the junction further north, and the installation of a four-way stop at the corner.

“We don’t want to be too hasty in what we do,” Commissioner Kenny Schremmer said. 

There is a lot of emotion surrounding this now and the commission must weigh the concerns of the victim’s family, county motorists as well as those who live near the crossing.

The commission’s action came after a sometimes-emotional discussion lasting more than an hour. In addition to comments from county officials were those from county residents, including Greg Schenk, who lives at the corner and whose shelter belt has been called into question, and Heather Weber, mother of 18-year-old Shealee A. Stover, who died in the April 17 crash there.

County officials called the junction a “problem intersection,” and looked Monday, April 23, at ways to make it safer. This led to a meeting that day involving County Engineer Barry McManaman, County Administrator Phil Hathcock, Barton County commissioners, County Works Director Darren Williams and Sheriff Brian Bellendir.  

“We have a couple of options,” McManaman said Monday morning. 

First was revamping the existing two-way intersection, at which east-west traffic on 30 Road must yield to north-south traffic on Washington which does not stop. These changes could include larger stop signs and “cross traffic does not stop” signs and wide, white stop lines on 30 Road.

Second was the four-way stop. This would include: The same, larger stop signs with flashing red beacons and all-way stop signs at all four corners; three sets of rumble strips; and short-term orange flags on the new north-south signs alerting drivers to the change.

In the end, the commission took the first option. However, commissioners stressed that this may be only an interim step as further study may lead to more changes.

Presently, the speed limit jumps from 45 miles per hour south of 30 Road to 55 north of it. Extending the 45-mph zone past 30 road was discussed.

East and westbound traffic on 30 Road is alerted to stopping by rumble strips, a stop sign and a flashing red light, and there is a sign noting cross traffic doesn’t stop.

The discussion

Bellendir told commissioners Monday that, according to accident reports, there are have been four crashes at the intersection. But, that is misleading.

These reports note the intersection as the crash location only if it took place where the roads actually cross. They do not include wrecks outside that crossing that may have been caused by it. 

A 10-year study by the Kansas Department of Transportation indicates that between 2008-2015, there were 15 crashes there, McManaman said. These were evenly distributed between vehicles coming from all directions.

Bellendir said his deputies have held special enforcements in the area. He did note that it is legal, since there is no white stop line or crosswalk, for a driver to ease up as close to the corner as possible to look for traffic.

“Most drivers are not aware of that law,” he said.

“I drove that three times (following the earlier discussion). I had plenty of vision.” Schremmer said, adding he watched as other vehicles just blew through the stop signs. “I don’t know what you can do out there with the other drivers. I don’t know what the answer is.”

Those who live on Washington close to the intersection said they have seen the problems there, noting they have to back out onto the road and hear the accelerating vehicles whizzing by. It was their suggestion to lower the speed on Washington north of 30 Road.

This was also popular with commissioners, but changing a speed limit must be done through a resolution. After one is drafted, it will be considered by the commission at a later date.

Others noted there were more intersections in the county that are dangerous. They also were worried that the addition of rumble strips on Washington would disturb area residents and, perhaps, damage property values.

Someone else suggested getting rid of the trees at the southeast corner. That shelter belt lines the property of Schenk. “I am the SOB with all the trees,” he said.

His family moved there for the peace and quiet, and none of the trees enter the county easements.

He noted that there have been many other crashes at many other locations. He even recalled one in which involved he and his daughter.

He supported the improved two-way stop and the reduced speed.

Then, Weber addressed the meeting. “I don’t know all the details of the accident,” she said.

“I just want to save one person from going through the heartache that I’m going through,” she said. She wanted to see a four-way stop.

Stover was killed when her westbound car was struck broadside by a northbound loaded cement truck after she failed to stop.  

The decision

“I am sorry for the situation that came up and the death of the young lady,” Commissioner Don Davis said. 

“As a professional driver for 48 years, I learned to obey the laws of the highways and roadways,” he said. It was Davis who moved to improve the current traffic situation at the corner in lieu of a making it a four-way stop.

“What ever we do, we have to do what is best for everybody,” Schremmer said. 

“This is a problem intersection,” Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said. “It is the job of this board to keep the citizens as safe as we can.”

She supported a four-way stop. This, she said, would be the best way to protect the good drivers while decreasing the likelihood of future collisions.

Failure to do something, Schartz said, would make her feel culpable if there were additional wrecks at the location.

Improving the intersection as it is was approved unanimously. Commissioners assured those present they will continue to study the matter.