The intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and U.S. Highway 281 just south of St. John has a long history of dangerous and deadly accidents. Construction on a roundabout interchange is now scheduled to begin in June 2019.
Construction on a safer interchange at the junction of U.S. 50 and U.S. 281 in Stafford County could start the first week in June.
Scott Mullen, area engineer for Kansas Department of Transportation, said preliminary bids for the project have been received and were opened Feb. 22. Bids will be reviewed to make sure there are no mistakes then the construction contract will be awarded at the end of March.
Mullen said he anticipates construction on the project will start the first week in June and will take from nine to 10 months to complete depending on the weather. It’s possible the project could be completed by the end of 2019 but will probably be complete in the spring of 2020, again depending on the weather, Mullen said.
While the final cost of the project has not been set, the lowest bid for the project was $5.2 million. Funding for the project is already in place so construction can begin just as soon as all the preliminary work is complete, Mullen said.
The intersection south of St. John in Stafford County has a long history of accidents. Potential improvements have been suggested since the 1970s. From 2002 to 2012, there were 21 crashes at the intersection resulting in one fatality, eight injured and 12 with property damage only, Mullen said.
Numerous elements have been added at the intersection to make it safer. Traffic on U.S. 281 has to stop at the intersection but U.S. 50 traffic doesn’t stop. To alert U.S. 281 traffic, rumble strips, additional signage and flashing lights have all been added but accidents still occur at the intersection, Mullen said.
“We’ve done everything we could do. This is not an intersection with an easy fix,” Mullen said. “There isn’t anything left to try. Accidents still happen.”
While the new design won’t eliminate the possibility of accidents, any accident should be much less severe than what happens now. This will eliminate the really dangerous broadside accidents, Mullen said.
The intersection will have a roundabout and diamond. This will allow traffic to move through the intersection safer than in the current configuration that contributes to t-bone accidents.
Other designs, like a cloverleaf, take up much more room and are more expensive. Designs with overpasses are also more expensive than the roundabout and diamond pattern. Overpasses could double the cost of the project.
“This is a more cost effective option,” Mullen said.
The project will be divided into three phases. During Phase One of the project, traffic will use the current intersection as usual and traffic will flow just as it would in any construction zone. Shooflies will be constructed to handle the traffic while the current intersection is removed. The roundabout will be built in Phase Three.
One of the biggest concerns with building a roundabout at this intersection is how it will handle oversize loads. Many wind farm projects go through this intersection and it takes a lot of space to handle wind tower sections especially the blades, Mullen said.
This is the second intersection of this type in Kansas. There is a similar roundabout with a diamond intersection near Marion at the intersection of highways 56 and 77. From all accounts Mullen has heard, the design works well at that intersection.