By Conrad Dudderar
Efforts by a Yukon woman whose father died in a recent traffic collision has prompted Canadian County and State of Oklahoma officials to act swiftly by announcing plans to improve a dangerous intersection.
Yukon’s Candace (Davis) Schwarz issued a call to action after her father, Yukon businessman and U.S. Navy veteran Ray Davis, died on Nov. 24 when the motorcycle he was driving collided with a semi-truck at the Banner Road/SH-66 intersection.
The truck driver, Oklahoma City’s Donald Biffle, 26, was driving northbound on Banner Road when he failed to stop at a stop sign at Highway 66. Davis, who did not have a stop sign, crashed into the driver’s side of the semi-truck.
After a meeting Dec. 4, Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader and Oklahoma Department of Transportation traffic engineer Brian Taylor said a four-way stop would be installed at the intersection within two months.
This will be a temporary solution, with plans to ultimately install traffic signals there.
Hader and Taylor have been working to determine what safety measures to take.
“Ultimately we will signalize that intersection,” Taylor said.
Even if the project is expedited, the ODOT traffic engineer said it would be at least two years before the new signal lights are installed.
This is due to the time it takes to prepare plans, solicit bids for the construction, hire a contractor, and order signal posts and other project materials.
Since there now are only stop signs in two directions and flashing lights, Taylor said ODOT officials want to “condition” drivers who travel this route regularly to adjust to the changes.
“Stop signs (in all four directions) are the perfect instrument to start the learning curve,” he said.
Other possible safety measures include reducing the speed limit (now 55 mph) for approaching motorists, installing advanced intersection warning signs and cutting down a line of trees that interferes with drivers’ line of sight.
ODOT’s traffic engineer expressed “sincerely condolences” to Davis’ family for their loss. He reminded motorists that driving “may be the most dangerous thing they do” so drivers should not be distracted.
Unfortunately, in this instance, the semi-truck driver did not obey the traffic control devices.
Canadian County Commissioners at an upcoming meeting will consider a resolution to participate with ODOT on a traffic signal project at the Banner Road/Highway 66 intersection. The resolution was drafted by Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries.
Canadian County will pay $45,000 (30%) of the estimated $150,000 project cost, according to Commissioner Hader. Under the proposed agreement, the county will provide any needed right-of-way and move utilities.
ODOT federal-aid program funds would cover 70 percent of the cost of the traffic signal project.
Meanwhile, the District 1 county commissioner said he’s “trying to expedite the timeline” for installation of the four-way stop – now estimated at 45-60 days.
Hader has other suggestions to improve the intersection – rumble strips, advance warning signs, changing amber lights to flashing red, j-turns, and a roundabout.
The two-term commissioner shared an October 2018 letter he wrote to ODOT’s chief engineer.
Hader wrote that Canadian County Commissioners had “passed a resolution to move forward with the signalization project earmarked for the intersection of SH-66 and Banner Road, in Canadian County. I, as the District 1 commissioner, have advocated for this project for my entire term in office. My fellow commissioners agree that the escalating volume of traffic has added to the need to complete this project.”
In the letter, Commissioner Hader said the county would “gladly set aside funds for the 20% local match and await the Transportation Commission’s approval of the project.”
But no action was taken because that resolution “didn’t have the exact verbiage that they (ODOT) would prefer”, according to Hader.
ODOT had not yet proceeded on the traffic signal project because it was awaiting a final maintenance agreement with Canadian County, according to ODOT Public Information Manager Lisa Shalim.
Now the county has agreed to increase the local match to 30%.
The District 1 commissioner referred to the Davis family’s “heartbreak” and “loss”.
“The whole Canadian County community is lifting the family up in their prayers,” Hader said.
He called on all motorists to be “completely focused” and avoid distractions while behind the wheel.
“If it wasn’t for the driver of that truck running the stop sign and light, we wouldn’t be talking about this topic,” Hader said.
TAKING A STAND
Schwarz thanked everyone for the “outpouring of support” they showed her family after her father’s death. Davis was a longtime carpet retailer and member of Trinity Baptist Church.
“My dad loved motorcycles,” Schwarz said. “He always said four things to me: ‘I go real slow, I never get on I-40, I’m always watching for the other guy, and I’m always paying attention’.
“But when there’s a semi with a 53-foot trailer that does not stop, my dad didn’t have a chance.”
She referred to all the property taxes that Davis Carpet has paid Canadian County over the years.
“What’s my dad’s life worth?” Schwarz said. “To me it’s worth a helluva lot more than $45,000.”
Davis’ daughter said she appreciates anyone willing to stand with her family to make the Banner Road/Highway 66 intersection – site of many serious crashes over the years – “safer once and for all.”
Schwarz is advocating for full signal lights, lower speed limits (to 45 or even 35 mph) for approaching traffic and street/solar lights to be installed, and she wants the trees removed.
The Yukon woman expressed frustration at what she called “complacency and bureaucracy” that has kept needed safety changes from being made.
She reached out publicly this week and called upon Commissioner Hader and ODOT officials to do something “to stop the body count.” She encouraged people to contact the county commissioner and state traffic engineers directly.
“I am so mad because my dad was victimized twice,” Schwarz said. “He was victimized by the murderer and he’s victimized by politics, government, red tape, finger-pointing – whatever you want to call it. How disgraceful.”
She even offered to pay the electric bill for new traffic lights.
“But I’ll be damned if I’ll let somebody else bury their loved one over a political thing that is not expensive,” Schwarz said. “I’m not going to have it.”
LIST GOES ON AND ON
Schwarz said she had spoken with retired Canadian County District Judge Edward C. Cunningham, who was seriously hurt in a 1994 accident at the Banner Road/Highway 66 intersection. Cunningham, who also had the right-of-way, nearly died.
“A family of four was killed there a few years ago, a man lost his leg, a husband and wife who live next door to my dad were badly injured about 14 years ago, and the list goes on and on,” Schwarz said.
There have been 79 traffic collisions at SH-66 and Banner Road since 1998, according to study provided by ODOT. This includes 38 injury crashes and three fatalities, the report shows.
Installing four-way stop signs is not enough and is just a “cheap” remedy, Schwarz emphasized.
“I want that (intersection) set up very similar to Morgan Road and Reno,” she said. “Because there’s been some people killed there, and they had to make some changes.”
The need to make significant changes at the Banner Road/Highway 66 intersection is “long overdue,” Schwarz added. She noted the intersection is “massive in its width” with four traffic lanes, two turn lanes, median, and shoulders.
“That could have been a school bus full of Banner school kids or it could have been somebody coming from Canadian Valley Technology Center,” she said.
“It’s already, in size, a massive intersection. It just doesn’t have the tools to navigate the traffic safely.”
Schwarz has set up an email account in honor of her father, firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Before this is over, I want a memorial out there in my dad’s name,” she said. “I want a statue or something in memory or honor of Ray Davis. And I’ll pay for it.”