The Kansas Department of Transportation lowered the speed limit on U.S. 56 Highway between the intersection of old 56 Highway and Interstate 35. Drivers must now drive no faster than 50 miles per hour, rather than 55 miles per hour, on that one-mile stretch of road that links the city of Gardner to the interstate.
With an increase in the city’s population and the number of traffic accidents, some residents in Gardner have called for a reevaluation of heavily traveled thoroughfares in town. For some, the December 2010 two-car accident which cost the lives of Hannah Apperson and Milton Whaley highlighted the importance of making U.S. 56 Highway west of Interstate 35 and east of Moonlight Road safer.
State and city officials had already started evaluating the potential need to slow traffic west of I-35 and east of Moonlight Road after the December 2010 accident that cost the lives of Hannah Apperson and Milton Whaley.
In fall 2010, KDOT traffic engineering staff began a review of the one-mile segment of US-56, based on a request by the City of Gardner.  After a review of the crash history, roadway geometrics, and speed data on this section of US-56, KDOT traffic engineering staff recommended that the speed limit along this portion of the highway be reduced from 55 mph to 50 mph.
“I know when the fatality accident occurred last year we had a number of residents calling to ask about lowering the speed limit (in that area) and we forwarded that information along to KDOT. There were various (safety) recommendations made by the citizens,” city engineer Celia Duran told The Gardner News several weeks ago.
The city’s population doubled between 2000 and 2010 and the number of accidents along that stretch of road increased by 250 percent. In 2000, there were 18 accidents along that thoroughfare.
In 2005, the number of accidents jumped to 24 – none of them fatal. But that all changed last year. There were 45 accidents on the one-mile stretch of road resulting in two fatalities.
Despite the spike in the number of accidents, the hands of city officials were tied where U.S. 56 Highway is concerned. Although the street serves as Gardner’s Main Street, it is a state-owned highway, and ultimately maintenance and speed decisions belong to KDOT.
At the end of April, state maintenance crews replaced the 55 mph signs with new 50 mph signs.
— Danedri Thompson