Motoring safely during flood season on the Kansas Turnpike

Signs and warning lights warn drivers of high water in two spots along the Kansas Turnpike south of Emporia last fall. (Nov. 6, 2015)
Signs and warning lights warn drivers of high water in two spots along the Kansas Turnpike south of Emporia last fall. (Nov. 6, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend – one of the peak travel times of the year – Mother Nature keeps drenching flood-prone areas along the Kansas Turnpike.

At one point Thursday, the Turnpike Authority had reports that up to 2 inches of rain per hour could fall in an area of the Flint Hills known for flooding, turnpike spokeswoman Rachel Bell said Friday. “It just seemed that area got hit one round after another.”

With the saturated soil and a chance for more rain, it’s a good time to remind motorists to be aware of local weather and driving conditions, Bell said.

Drainage work zone

It’s not just Kansas’ wet weather that motorists need to heed. It’s construction season. In particular, drivers should be ready to slow down and move over into one lane each way for construction on drainage improvements at or near two turnpike locations – mile markers 116 and 118, north of Wichita between the Matfield Green service area and Emporia exits.

Flash-flooding over the highway at those two locations killed six travelers in 2003 and one person last summer.

Crews are expanding drainage culverts that run under the turnpike at MM 116 and 118 to handle more water. Despite the wet weather, the project remains on schedule for completion in late November, weather permitting, the Turnpike Authority says.

Motorists are urged to drive cautiously in the work zones, where speed limits are reduced.

Alert to the weather

Especially in this wet period, drivers need to watch the weather, listen to local radio for specific weather conditions and be prepared to pull over and stop at a safe place so they don’t drive into a hazard, Bell said. Slow down to prevent hydroplaning, and don’t drive into standing water, she said. Also, look for weather or travel alerts on the turnpike’s digital message signs.

The turnpike has permanent signs – including some that flash when triggered by storm monitors – around MM 116 and two miles to the north at MM 118.

The Kansas Highway Patrol’s advice: Slow down if the lights are flashing. If water isn’t crossing the highway, keep driving, if you can safely go at a slow speed. Stopping along the turnpike is a last resort because you could be struck by other vehicles.

Tim Potter: 316-268-6684, @terporter

Safe travel reminders

Tips from the Kansas Turnpike Authority and the National Weather Service:

▪ Check the Weather Service for flood warnings, tornado warnings and other severe-weather alerts.

▪ Watch for electronic message signs.

▪ Slow down.

▪ Pull over if it’s safe to do so.

▪ Tune to a local radio station for weather information.

▪ Keep a safe following distance.

▪ If you encounter severe weather, consider taking a break from driving while the storm passes.

▪ Rest stops along the Turnpike and at toll areas offer tornado shelters.

▪ Make sure tire tread is in good condition before you get on the road.

▪ Check the weather before you go – if adverse weather conditions are expected, consider delaying your trip.

▪ No matter what the weather, always buckle up.