By Traci Chapman
While community outcry about a ‘dangerous intersection’ along State Highway 66 has hit a crescendo in the weeks since a Canadian County resident was killed at the site, officials say efforts to make it safer have been ongoing for years.
That intersection – where North Banner Road meets the state highway between Yukon and El Reno – has been the site of numerous serious accidents in the last five years.
On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 24, a semi-truck driver allegedly ran a stop sign at the intersection and collided with Yukon businessman Ray Lee Davis, 73, killing the motorcyclist along State Highway 66.
The truck driver, Oklahoma City’s Donald Garrett Biffle, 26, was charged Dec. 17 in Canadian County District Court with negligent homicide by motor vehicle. Biffle also has been sued for wrongful death by Davis’ widow.
Canadian County District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader has long led efforts to install a traffic light at the Highway 66/North Banner Road intersection.
On Monday, Canadian County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution committing funds they hope will prompt Oklahoma Department of Transportation to approve the project – a commitment necessary because Highway 66 is a state thoroughfare.
It is the third resolution sent by commissioners to ODOT in an attempt to get a traffic light installed at the site, Hader said.
“Each time the county has increased our amount of participation to attempt to make this happen,” the commissioner said. “We at District 1 have been trying to work through the system to bring about better safety at this intersection for a couple of years.”
INTERIM STUDY REQUESTED
The Davis fatality accident once again illustrates just how dangerous the Highway 66-Banner Road intersection is, Hader said, but efforts have been going on for years to try to accomplish more security at the site.
In fact, it was earlier in November – Nov. 6 – the commissioner requested an interim study by state legislative transportation committee members to discuss better ways to implement infrastructure changes and improvements delayed through lack of funding or other challenges.
“This intersection was the keynote illustration amongst several others for the case I was making that there is a need,” Hader said. “I also made the case that the Department of Transportation might need a slight funding increase to meet maintenance needs like this intersection.”
When Hader first broached the subject of a Highway 66-Banner Road traffic light with ODOT, officials there estimated a light would cost about $150,000; during a Dec. 4 meeting that expense had doubled to $250,000-$300,000 or perhaps more, Hader said.
ODOT officials’ funding challenges led commissioners to first promise to pay 20% of the proposed traffic light’s construction expense.
After the first resolution was declined, Hader said the board offered to absorb 30% of that cost “just to illustrate our sincerity at trying to get this deal done.”
“It’s safe to say that Canadian County is willing to put six figures toward improving the safety at this intersection,” the commissioner said. “That is quite a bit of ‘skin in the game’ to assist the department within their lawful right of way.”
FLASHING LIGHTS APPROVED IN 2003
Safety equipment now in place at the intersection – flashing lights and signs advising cross-traffic traveling along State Highway 66 does not stop – were put in place by Canadian County, Hader said, thanks to a 2003 deal negotiated by former District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson with ODOT.
Commissioners also would not remain static while their latest resolution traveled through state channels, the commissioner said. A plan was in the works to create a four-way stop as soon as possible.
“That will be low cost and will help safety in the intersection in the short term,” Hader said. “We at District 1 have already placed 35 MPH speed limit signs within our county highway jurisdiction on Banner Road.
“And we are ordering yellow diamond signs with stop sign ahead symbols with flashing lights around the perimeter to put both north and south of the intersection. The Department of Transportation will be putting similar measures in place along their state highway right of way.”
ODOT officials Monday could not speculate how soon the county resolution would be reviewed on a state level, although they said the Banner Road-Highway 66 intersection “was being studied.”