Deadly crashes on rural roads lead push for new safety efforts in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Safety efforts are underway to address deadly crashes on rural roads in Kansas.

People may hear a lot about crashes in urban areas, usually when people try to cross the street, but hundreds of thousands of crashes take place on rural roads in the U.S. every year. In Kansas, it’s something Tod Salfrank, who oversees several local project units at the Kansas Dept. of Transportation, said they’re working hard to prevent.

“Here in Kansas we have a large percentage, of crashes, fatal and disabling crashes that occur on the local road system,” Salfrank said.

In 2018, there were nearly 65,000 traffic crashes in the state; 365 were deadly. People driving on rural roads face the same risk. The state announced in May that $8.5 million would go to 16 counties in the state to address crashes on rural roads in high-risk areas.

The push for safety improvements comes as the state has also invested millions of federal dollars into fixing highways and roads.

A plan to replace the Polk-Quincy viaduct, a part of the I-70 that curves around Downtown Topeka, was announced in early July. It’s known as a dangerous part of the highway, which has accounted for several crashes in the state.

The state is spending $214 million dollars fixing the curve. An additional $20 million will be contributed locally. Kansas Dept. of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz, made the announcement along with a string of transportation projects.

“We’re announcing more than three-quarters of a billion dollars going to construction so that we can improve Kansans’ lives through safety and improve economic development,” Lorenz said.

Kansas’ High-Risk Rural Road Program has been conducting construction projects every year since 2012. The 16 counties are getting federal dollars for projects set to kick off in 2023. Salfrank said he’s seen the money go to good use, and is hoping these additional funds will help make critical local roadways safer.

“The number of lives that are saved, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” Lorenz said. “It’s certainly beneficial, and those improvements are making a difference.”


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