The crashes are disturbing to watch: A car flips numerous times, a tractor-trailer overturns as though in slow motion, a motorcyclist crashes and the rider is flung over the guardrail, plunging 90 feet to his death.
Leo Eilts lives near the Interstate 70 curves at the Lewis and Clark Viaduct Bridge in Kansas City, Kan., the site of all those crashes. He was so disturbed by the frequency and graphic nature of them that he mounted a camera at his home, capturing about 10 wrecks over the years, he said.
If not for a lack of state funding, a reconstruction project to replace the curves and the entire bridge system might already have been underway, according to Kim Qualls, a Kansas Department of Transportation spokeswoman.
“KDOT has lost a lot of money over the last few years,” Qualls said. “There’s just no funding at this point.”
Never miss a local story.
On Sunday, Eilts’ camera recorded Casey Bezdek riding his motorcycle into the curve, crashing into a guardrail and falling to his death.
Eilts shared that footage with media, but The Star decided against publishing it because of its graphic nature. However, Eilts provided video footage of several other crashes at the curves, which The Star compiled.
“This whole episode has affected me on a personal level,” Eilts said.
In Facebook posts, Eilts has referred to the area as “suicide curve.”
“It was only a matter of time until I captured a fatal incident,” he wrote the day of Bezdek’s death. “That day came today.”
According to a study that began in 2011 on the bridge system, crash data for a stretch of I-70 that includes the curves showed “a higher total crash rate in comparison with statewide average crash rates for similar types of highways.”
One of the mitigating measures was to reconstruct the system to better allow for consistent speeds.
Qualls, who acknowledged the curves are tight, said they alone do not cause crashes. But speeding often does.
The posted speed at the curve is 35 mph, and Qualls said other sharp curves exist in Kansas’ highway system.
But she alluded to a concern raised by Eilts. The bridge and curves were built decades ago, when vehicles moved at a different pace.
“Everything moves forward as technology and vehicles change, speed ... design standards,” she said
Eilts called the curves antiquated.
“It was designed at a time when the safety parameters were different,” he said. “In 1957, cars would only go 50 mph. We’ve got cars now that will run 80 easily.”
The ramps were built in 1963.
According to the study of the system, “future repair costs are considered major to keep the bridge in service.”
Different conceptual designs were proposed, with the preferred concept costing $175 million to $199 million. That design includes a plan to improve the curves, which were cited as a concern by residents during public input sessions.
The Star reported in late 2015 that Kansas lawmakers were concerned that the diversion of KDOT funds by Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to shore up a struggling general fund budget would come back to haunt the highway system.
Lawmakers said they refer derisively to Brownback’s practice as tapping into the “bank of KDOT,” and the critics said then that it could lead to delays on current and future projects.
Eilts called for more signage in the area, as a temporary measure with the hope to alert motorists sooner or in a more prominent way about the curves.
“For a few hundred bucks, they could put out (more) markers,” Eilts said. “It’s so easy to underestimate that corner.”