The Y-shaped intersection just west of Ellinwood has been troubled for years. Local residents and officials even consider the junction dangerous.
Hopefully, brightening the area will make it safer. The Barton County Commission Monday morning learned Midwest Energy will install a taller pole on utility right-of-way, with a 400-watt metal halide light, increasing the illumination by four times.
Barton County will pick up the $30 monthly cost.
“This is indeed significant,” said J. Basil Dannebohm of Ellinwood, the state representative elect from the 113 District who served as the director of the Ellinwood Chamber of Commerce. He is one of the officials who fought for improvements to the corner.
“I applaud the Barton County Commission for its commitment to the safety of our citizens,” Dannebohm said, addressing the Barton Count Commission Monday. “This is a tremendous step in the right direction.”
The issue of the intersection most recently came up at a Kansas Department of Transportation community meeting Oct. 31 in Ellinwood. With Kansas Transportation Secretary Mike King present, it was suggested that the lighting at the intersection of U.S. 56 and East Barton County Road be improved.
The matter arose at a County Commission meeting in November. The commission then approved studying the intersection to see what the county could do.
County Engineer Clark Rusco discussed the improvement with local KDOT officials and Midwest Energy. They arrived at the idea of the new light.
There is more in the works, said Barry McManaman, Great Bend-based KDOT area engineer. The transportation department is developing a specialized Y intersection sign to be placed at the junction.
Although these changes will help, more needs to be done, McManaman said. “Ultimately, it needs to be rebuilt” and realigned as a 90-degree intersection, he told commissioners.
However, that is not likely to happen anytime soon, he said. Even though there have been serious accidents (as well as near misses) at the corner and surrounding area, there have not been enough to flag it as dangerous in the eyes of state officials.
And, McManaman said, KDOT has a limited budget and must have stringent criteria to set priorities. There are a lot of sites in Kansas and residents in those areas feel their projects are equally important.
If at some point the busy Ellinwood to Great Bend corridor makes it onto a KDOT project list, the realignment could be done at that time. But, that would likely have to wait until the state adopts its next 10-year highway plan in 2020.
It would take this kind of major project for the junction to be fixed, McManaman said.
It’s unfortunate that motorists have to get hurt in order to earn improvements, said Commissioner Ken Lebbin. Sure, there have been accidents, but there have been countless near misses and its too bad these don’t factor into state statistics and decisions.
In the meantime, McManaman said, there are other possible changes that could be made. Under consideration are flashing lights and a turning lane.
But, “we don’t want to trade one problem for another,” McManaman said. They need to study these and make sure they wouldn’t make the problem worse.
For now, Dannebohm said he’s going to take the fight to Topeka and continue pushing for improvements from the state. “Our message is that we are taking this step and we are asking you to take the next step.”