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Thursday, July 31, 2014

As suburban traffic grows in Wichita area, so does number of accidents

BY HURST LAVIANA
The Wichita Eagle

Sam Spainhour, the day manager of Rock Liquor in Derby, has seen a few accidents outside his store at Patriot and Rock Road.

Besides the liquor store, the intersection is the home of a busy QuikTrip, an Emprise Bank branch and a county fire station. Spainhour said the worst wreck he’s seen happened a few months ago.

“It was a little red car trying to turn west on Patriot,” he said. “The other car didn’t see him, and the red car ended up in the bank parking lot.”

Spainhour said he wasn’t surprised to hear that the intersection recorded 28 accidents in 2009 — more than any other intersection in Derby. Patriot and Rock, in fact, recorded more accidents than many major intersections in Wichita.

Recently released Kansas Department of Transportation data show that the surges in suburban population growth from 2000 to 2009 were often accompanied by surges in traffic accidents.

But the records also show that no suburban intersection is in a position to challenge Kellogg and Webb in east Wichita as the king of traffic accidents in south-central Kansas.

Kellogg and Webb recorded 64 major accidents in 2009, easily outdistancing Harry and Rock Road as the area’s most accident-prone. It was the third straight year that Kellogg and Webb has topped Wichita’s accident list.

Although improvements already are under way at Harry and Rock, motorists can expect to live with the traffic snarl at Kellogg and Webb at least until 2014.

The accident figures were taken from KDOT traffic accident data and include only accidents that occurred in intersections or were labeled by accident investigators as “intersection related.”

Statewide, 37 percent of the 766,821 accidents reported from 2000 through 2009 occurred at intersections. In Sedgwick County, 53 percent of the 139,234 wrecks were intersection-related.

The KDOT figures are not foolproof. What one accident investigator calls “Washington and Kellogg,” another might refer to as “Washington and U.S. 54.” What one investigator calls “21st and Broadway,” another might call “21st North and Broadway.”

And when a report says an accident occurred at “29th and Meridian,” there may be no way to tell whether it was 29th North or 29th South.

The Eagle made efforts to standardize the KDOT listings — at least in the Wichita area — but the numbers do not offer a complete picture of an intersection’s accident history.

Minor noninjury accidents that cause less than $1,000 in damage are not typically reported to KDOT.

Wichita intersections

In Wichita, Kellogg and Rock Road was the leader in accidents throughout the first half of the decade, but it lost its title as the city’s most accident-prone intersection to the Kellogg reconstruction project. The Kellogg and Rock Road interchange opened in 2009.

Gail Williams, administrative manager for Wichita’s Department of Public Works and Utilities, said a Webb Road interchange will be part of the next phase of the Kellogg project, but work on that phase isn’t scheduled to begin at least until 2014.

Road reconstruction projects can affect traffic accidents, the KDOT figures suggest. Central and Tyler was the city’s second most accident-prone intersection in 2008, when it had 48 accidents. The number dropped to 20 in 2009, after a major overhaul that included double left-turn lanes in all four directions.

The runner-up on the city’s 2009 list was Harry and Rock Road, which is undergoing a major facelift this year. When that project is finished in November, Williams said, it will have dual left-turn lanes in all directions, just like the intersection at Central and Tyler.

Suburban accidents

On paper, it would appear that Patriot (63rd Street South) and Rock Road saw a recent spike in traffic accidents — from zero in 2005 to 28 in 2009. But Derby City Manager Kathy Sexton said that’s because the intersection wasn’t in the city in 2005.

There were probably accidents at the intersection in 2005, which was before it was annexed, she said. They just weren’t classified as Derby accidents by KDOT before the annexation.

From 2000 through 2009 in Derby, the intersection of Buckner and Meadowlark had the most accidents. Sexton said major improvements to that intersection were completed in 2009, and she said she expects to see the accident numbers there start to go down.

At another of Derby’s high-accident intersections — Meadowlark and Nelson — plans already are being made to improve traffic flow, she said.

Sexton said raw accident figures aren’t the only factor to consider when deciding whether an intersection needs to be upgraded.

“Ten accidents a year at an intersection that only sees 1,000 vehicles per day is much more significant than 20 accidents a year at an intersection that sees 50,000 vehicles a day,” she said.

Of all the area’s suburban intersections, none saw more accidents in 2009 than the 44 that occurred at Kellogg and Andover Road.

Andover Police Chief Mike Keller said he suspects the 2009 figure was an aberration.

He said accidents at that intersection, and for the city as a whole, were down in 2010, and he said the figures are down again for the first eight months of this year.

Keller said another of the city’s most accident-prone intersections — 13th and Andover Road — saw accidents drop in 2010 after the installation of new traffic lights designed to better handle the heavy traffic flow.

Keller, a former Wichita police officer, said he suspects that it probably is a little safer to drive in suburban cities like Andover, where residential speed limits are 25 mph.

He said his 22-officer department invests a lot in traffic safety.

“In a smaller community, it’s a quality-of-life issue,” he said. “Traffic, along with things like barking dogs, are big issues here.”

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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