It’s been called the Kansas Autobahn.
With its broad medians and gentle curves, Kansas 10 generally offers a straight shot from suburban Johnson County to Lawrence.
It also tempts drivers to hit the gas as they race along at speeds well above the posted 70 mph limit.
“It seems to me that over the last eight to 10 years, the speed on this highway has increased dramatically,” Mayor Scott Hopson of Eudora recently told state lawmakers.
It’s a problem that the Kansas Legislature is trying to put the brakes on. And the Senate on Thursday took the first step by voting 22-18 to approve a bill that creates special enforcement corridors on selected Kansas highways.
The bill now goes to the House, where it’s expected to face a tough fight. If it passes, Kansas will join 13 other states that target dangerous highways for extra traffic enforcement.
The bill would allow the state to double the fines on K-10 and U.S. 54 in Wichita, two locations generating complaints about chronic dangerous driving.
Signs along the highways would warn motorists of the increased fines in the enforcement zone. Money from fines would be used to pay for enforcement along the parts designated as a safety corridor.
The bill also bans drivers from pleading down traffic violations to a non-moving violation by paying more money, a legal maneuver allowed in many municipal courts. The corridors would be available in other parts of the state where cities and counties identify highways with safety problems.
The latest safety effort stems from the death of 5-year-old Cainan Shutt of Eudora, who was killed last year when the vehicle he was riding in was struck by an oncoming car that crossed the median.
Cainan’s family has been fighting for improved safety measures on K-10 and was able to get Gov. Sam Brownback to push for the installation of median guard cable.
Cainan’s grandmother made a special heartfelt plea for the new law before a legislative committee last month.
“We are a good family,” Carie Lawrence told lawmakers. “Eleven months ago we had a good life. We are broken today.”
She added: “You can make a difference. Pass this bill.”
A special committee, set up at the Republican governor’s direction, studied ways to improve K-10 safety and recommended the guard cable and the highway safety corridors.
“K-10 is a wonderful road,” said Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat. “The problem is that it’s such a wonderful road that if you’re not paying attention, you can easily lose control of your vehicle.”
From 2000 to 2010, there were 2,840 crashes on K-10 between Lawrence and I-435 in Johnson County. Seventeen were fatalities.
The speed limit on most of K-10 is 70 mph, and studies show that 85 percent of the vehicles are driving at 75 mph or less.
Safety engineers found that speed was the primary cause of most of the crossover crashes on K-10 from 2006 to 2010. Other factors involved in crashes on K-10 included drivers making evasive maneuvers, ice and driver inattention.
Later this year, median cables similar to what have been used successfully to reduce crashes in Missouri will go up on a couple of two-mile sections of K-10.
However, not all senators agreed that there’s a safety problem on K-10, which will eventually need to be widened as new development along the corridor creates more traffic.
They see the bill as a revenue generator and contend that the real answer might be adding more median guard cable.
“If we really want to stop this from happening, I think we need to find the money to put in cables,” said Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican who opposed the bill.
Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, also opposed the measure, but only because she didn’t think it went far enough. She said the Kansas Legislature needs to pressure the Transportation Department into improving K-10 to relieve growing traffic congestion.
Lynn said the state should consider installing concrete barriers in the median in order to prevent future crashes.
“It’s a feel-good vote. I don’t think it’s going to make any difference,” said Lynn, whose district includes parts of K-10.
Some studies suggest that highway safety corridors in other states have reduced crashes — at least in the first couple of years after they’re implemented.
For example, Virginia created safety corridors on sections of three highways in the last 10 years. Speeding fines there can be as high as $500.
Within two years, all crashes on one corridor of Interstate 81 near Roanoke dropped 27 percent. Fatal and injury crashes dropped by about one-third, according to state transportation figures.
On another Virginia highway, Interstate 95 near Richmond, the number of crashes dropped 13 percent in the first year, but they soared in the second year to a number higher than before the corridor was created.
A New Jersey study sent conflicting signals about their effectiveness. The state saw a reduction in fatal crashes in its 11 safety corridors in their first year in 2004. However, the number of fatal crashes was higher in years two and three than they were the year before the corridor program started.
But the study also points out that overall crashes dropped in each of the first three years of the program, leading New Jersey officials to believe the program was beneficial.
Some Kansas senators believe the corridor program is crucial to protecting drivers, especially on U.S. 54 in Wichita, where there have been more than 4,500 wrecks from 2007 to 2011 and more than 62,000 tickets have been handed out.
“This is something that needs to be passed,” said Sen. Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican. “We have people dying out there who don’t need to.”