Local students take charge in making Highway 75 safer

News

Deadly crashes on Highway 75 have local students concerned. On Tuesday they got the chance to talk to the people in charge about making a change.  

Local students from several different schools got together to work on a ‘Safe 75’ plan. It’s a project they’ve put a lot of work into. 

On Tuesday they talked with the Kansas Department of Transportation about their ideas. Jackson Heights High supervisor Katie Morris was at the meeting with the students. 

“We’ve been working on this since January or February, meeting with the students. It was just a good chance to bring our letter and petition to the KDOT officials and have a good conversation about how we can work together to make Highway 75 safer,” Morris said. 

KDOT said they’re listening to the concerns and want to help. One of the state officials at Tuesday’s meeting was Chris Herrick, KDOT’s Director of Planning and Development. 

“Any fatality that happens across the state is important to us. There’s been some recent fatalities on Highway 75,” Herrick said, “We have high school students and young people that are nervous about driving and want to make sure it’s safer to drive on so we’re out here to listen.”

Even though everyone wants to make the highway safer, logistically there are hurdles to jump. Lawmakers would have to approve and allocate funds for things like lights or extra lanes, which could take some time. 

But that isn’t getting students like Jackson High Senior Edward Mandala down. 

“At the beginning of this thing I was surprised and it just went on. We talked to the governor and now we’re talking to the people who are doing the ground work. So it’s just been a really surprising outcome this quick that people actually want to meet with us,” Mandala said. “It’s not an instant process. You can’t do it in a day or a week so it’s just a waiting game now to see what happens next.”

Jackson Heights High Senior Faith Little agreed. 

“It will take some time but I think we can be proactive right now by making all these small changes by educating students. Then they’re doing their work as well while we’re doing ours,” Little said. 

Even though structural changes may take some time, law enforcement said there are lots of things drivers can do immediately to prevent accidents. Trooper Don Hughes with the Kansas Highway Patrol was at the meeting as well. 

“There is a difference between looking and seeing. Many a time I’ve taken statements from drivers and they say ‘I was looking but I didn’t see that bicyclist’ or ‘I was looking but I didn’t see that little kid’. So we need to look, look again, and look a third time,” Hughes said. 

KSNT News looked into the statistics of crashes on Highway 75 from Holton to the Nebraska state line: 

KDOT tells us from 2015-2019 there were 224 total car crashes. 9 of those crashes were fatal, killing a total of 12 people. From those crashes 8 people got disabling injuries and 26 more were injured as well. 

7 people died in the year 2017 alone. One person died in 2018. 

In total from 2015-2019 there were 224 car crashes on that portion of the highway. 

KDOT said that their data for 2018 and 2019 is incomplete and unofficial at this point. 

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