Jerry L Kellogg, Sr.
The US 56 Highway Corridor Plan study completed in 2010 by the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) concluded that by the year 2040 US 56 through Gardner would require a six-lane arterial roadway (3-lanes in each direction) between Moonlight Road and I-35. The highway currently carries approximately 25,000 vehicles per day through this zone.
The existing US 56 bridge was constructed over New Century Parkway and the BNSF transcontinental railroad tracks about 1980 — when the population of Gardner was 2,290. The bridge could be retrofitted to accommodate six-lanes with a concrete center median and a reduction in the posted speed limit, according to the KDOT study.
The Corridor Plan proposes modifications by the year 2040 that would effectively remove the recently reconfigured Old US 56 intersection with new US 56 by redirecting traffic to and from Old US 56 via realignment with New Century Parkway and new connecting ramps north and south of the bridge. This would likely result in the need for two sets of traffic signals on New Century Parkway at the proposed ramp junctions.
After the tragic double fatality head-on collision last Dec. 8 at the western end of the bridge, I spoke with KDOT traffic engineers and pleaded for an immediate reduction in the speed limit and the installation of temporary median barriers. I was told that placing center barriers would require an additional 19 feet of roadway width and that speed limits are established by traffic surveys of the rates of speed traveled by 85 percent of motorists over this bridge. Sadly, the impression I got from our conversation (and I hope I am wrong) was that KDOT is currently more concerned with a speedy flow of traffic at the expense of motorist safety.
I asked the state traffic engineer if a request from the governing body of Gardner would enhance the possibility of a new study of the US 56 bridge traffic safety conditions and he replied it probably would. I have not heard if the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department has yet released the final report on the cause of the December accident, but I would urge the City of Gardner and our state senator and state representative to look into this matter. In my opinion, steps should be taken now to help prevent future injuries and loss of lives on this stretch of highway – 2040 is just too far away.