Tired of the jackhammer-like noise from semitrailer trucks using engine brakes along Kellogg Avenue at 143rd Street East, someone – no one is saying who – recently put up “Engine Brakes Prohibited” signs along the stretch of highway between Wichita and Andover.
The white signs with black lettering looked professional.
Residents in the area thanked Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Skelton, to whom they had pleaded for help, for getting something done.
Skelton thought someone from the state had put up the signs and felt relieved for homeowners in his district.
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But then, almost as quickly as they went up, the rogue signs came down.
The Kansas Department of Transportation yanked the unofficial signs, said district engineer Benny Tarverdi.
“Our maintenance supervisor noticed some signs up on our existing sign structures. As soon as they saw them, they were removed,” Tarverdi said. “We don’t know who put them up. But this really is against the law.”
The department does not install signs banning the use of engine brakes, a compression release braking system installed on many large diesel trucks. The brakes are commonly called “jake brakes.” Engine brakes are especially handy in mountainous areas and help save a truck’s regular brakes.
“There’s a reason for those air brakes. They are safety features, and we don’t sign against them. That has been our policy for a long time,” Tarverdi said.
The department does allow cities to post signs prohibiting them on welcome and city limit signs. Counties are not allowed to install the signs, Tarverdi said.
The area in question is outside Wichita’s city limits.
Skelton is hoping to convince the state that engine braking isn’t necessary on the flat stretch of Kellogg for semis to come to a stop at 143rd Street East.
“I’m going to give them everything I got,” Skelton said of trying to help area homeowners who say the noise wakes them up and keeps them from enjoying their patios and backyards.
He said he’s fed up with red tape.
So is Paula Dunagan, director of the homeowners association for Springdale Country Estates just south of Kellogg near 143rd Street East.
“I’ve been making calls since 2005. I’ve called the city. I’ve called the county. I’ve called the state,” she said. “Everybody would say, ‘I’ll talk to somebody and call you back.’ I finally gave up because I never got any help.”
She said she lives almost a half-mile south of Kellogg, and “you can’t even stand to be outside.”
“I don’t understand why it’s a safety issue,” she said. “They can see the stoplight in plenty of time.”
Dunagan’s home was built in 1978, before the area was developed.
“There wasn’t anything out here,” she said. “Even since we’ve lived here, there were fields all around us.”
In a letter to Skelton, Dunagan wrote: “There is so much traffic in the area now that we don’t even hardly go outside. There is nothing enjoyable about the outdoors at our homes now. I can’t even stand to do yard work anymore because of the noise level of the traffic and exhaust brakes in particular. I think there is rarely a light cycle that at least one semi isn’t using their exhaust brakes and there is plenty of visibility to see the light and prepare to stop without exhaust brakes.”
Diana Zager said she moved because of the noise.
“You could not sit in my backyard on the patio and have a civil conversation with the person next to you,” Zager said. “The noise off of Kellogg came right across our backyard.”
Zager lived at Springdale, an addition with sprawling houses, neatly manicured lawns and a chain of three private lakes, for about 10 years.
“We had moved in there before they put the stop sign in at 143rd and Kellogg,” she said.
She said she moved to Hunters Pointe near 143rd Street East and Harry about six years ago.
“I didn’t want to leave the area, but I wanted to get off that corner,” she said. “When we bought the house, the noise really wasn’t there. The traffic is just horrendous on Kellogg anymore. And it just got progressively worse every year.”
Skelton said he plans to take Dunagan’s letters and letters from other homeowners to the city, county and state.
“I am 100 percent behind these people,” he said.