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Ambulance volunteer leads campaign for roundabout near Marion

Staff writer

Gene Winkler has seen enough.

A fatality accident that claimed the life of 23-year-old Sai Ramanadham of Warrensburg, Mo., on Nov.16 is the most recent in a long history of accidents at the U.S. 56/U.S. 77/K-150 junction east of Marion, and Winkler believes the time has come for the intersection to be modified to increase safety.

Winkler, a longtime Marion Ambulance crew member, has been circulating a petition as a private citizen to encourage Kansas Department of Transportation to install a roundabout at the intersection, similar to the one in Florence at U.S. 77/U.S. 50.

“I just thought we needed to get something done,” Winkler said. “I’ve seen deaths and severely-injured people out there, and it doesn’t have to happen.”

Winkler has not met with universal acceptance when soliciting signatures.

“Some people said absolutely not — they don’t like roundabouts,” Winkler said.

Winker has gotten between 250 and 300 people to sign the petition, and believes that’s enough to move on to the next step.

“I think that’s all I’m going to try to get. I just wanted them to know we’re concerned about it,” Winkler said. “I’m going to try to get letters from (Marion County) EMS, St. Luke Hospital, and maybe the city.”

Winkler is motivated by the success at Florence, where he said the intersection had an accident rate eight times higher than normal prior to installation of the roundabout.

“They’ve had zero fatalities,” Winkler said.

Cheryl Lambrecht, a senior traffic engineer in the KDOT Topeka office, echoed Winkler’s comment.

“You have a shining example in Florence — it’s amazing the amount of traffic and the reduction of traffic accidents at that intersection,” Lambrecht said.

The U.S. 56/U.S. 77/K-150 junction is already drawing the attention of KDOT. An accident study dated Oct. 18, prior to the most recent accident, documents 17 accidents occurring at the intersection from January 2007 through September 2011, with 10 of those accidents resulting in personal injuries to 21 people.

The study also revealed 12 of the accidents occurred during daylight hours and dry road conditions. Failure to yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic was cited as the primary cause of 14 of the 17 accidents.

“We did a study of traffic signals at rural intersections, and it’s amazing how many people run intersections,” Lambrecht said.

The process of determining what changes to make to the intersection to decrease accidents and improve safety will involve local, regional, and state KDOT officials. Many factors have to be considered, Lambrecht said.

“Whether it’s stop signs, traffic signals, a roundabout, or an interchange, they all have their pluses and minues,” Lambrecht said.

As an example, she described the option of installing a four-way stop, something that was done on an interim basis at Florence. While it might decrease one type of accident, it could cause an increase in another.

“If we make it an all-way stop control, we would likely see an increase in rear-end crashes. Does that outweigh the other — that’s what we would have to discuss,” Lambrecht said.

Engineering issues, budget, other construction projects, and the kind of traffic passing through the intersection are additional factors KDOT must take into account.

Lambrecht did not provide a specific timeline, but indicated the priority for doing something has increased given both the recently completed accident study and the fatality accident.

Winkler’s effort to increase KDOT’s awareness of the problem can be an important additional incentive to the department, and local input is essential to the process, Lambrecht said.

“We certainly want to hear from and talk to the residents — you have to live with it every day,” she said.

Last modified Dec. 15, 2011

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