By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Canadian County residents addressed county commissioners this week about the need for permanent safety upgrades at the State Highway 66/Banner Road intersection.
County commissioners, after a spirited discussion among themselves and citizens, took no action at their weekly meeting Monday on a proposal to participate with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation on a paving and safety project at the intersection. A roundabout had been proposed, although other options including new traffic signals have been strongly suggested.
The roundabout would cost the state an estimated $400,000-$450,000, and Canadian County would pay engineering and design fees of about $94,000.
Monday morning’s discussion began with Yukon’s Candace (Davis) Schwarz telling county commissioners that her father, Ray Lee Davis, was killed on Nov. 24, 2019 at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection in a crash she believes could have been avoided.
The intersection is in ODOT’s right-of-way within an unincorporated area of Canadian County in Commissioner Marc Hader’s district.
A longtime Yukon businessman, Ray Davis was riding a motorcycle on SH-66 when he struck a semi-truck that state troopers said had failed to yield from Banner Road.
“It was a bright sunny Sunday afternoon and my father did nothing wrong,” Schwarz said at Monday morning’s meeting. “But due, in part, to the lack of action of this board, my father is now dead.”
Schwarz told commissioners their “complacency and arrogance” contributed to her father’s death.
Ray Davis was killed while riding his motorcycle only a few miles from his Yukon home of 26 years. He was a successful Yukon business owner and his retail carpet company had just celebrated 50 years, his daughter told commissioners.
Schwarz referred to traffic studies and previous proposed resolutions that indicated a need for safety improvements at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection, the site of dozens of injury traffic collisions and several fatalities over the past three decades. She expressed frustration at Canadian County Commissioners for not approving a resolution sooner at ODOT’s request.
Directing her comments at District 1 Commissioner Hader, Schwarz said, “While you continue your power struggle with ODOT, citizens of the county are being injured and slaughtered while you pay politics.”
Commissioner Hader, who serves this year as the county board chairman, said this latest resolution will the fourth that “we’ve put forward trying to” make this intersection safe.
A current four-way stop at SH-66/Banner Road is “something I’ve been suggesting all along possibly as a permanent measure, and if not, certainly as a transitional measure,” Hader said.
“We’ve already made it safer with the four-way stop,” he said.
Until just a month ago, the SH-66/Banner Road intersection had stop signs only for northbound and southbound motorists.
In February, ODOT made the intersection a four-way stop with red flashing lights as part of interim measures to increase safety.
“If they current four-way stop had been installed on Nov. 24, 2019, my dad would most likely be alive,” Schwarz told county commissioners.
Oklahoma City’s Donald Biffle, 26, was the semi-truck driver who allegedly failed to stop. He has been formally charged in Canadian County District Court with negligent homicide.
Rumble strips and advance warning signs also have been installed before a permanent solution is approved.
Commissioner Hader accepted Schwarz’s criticism at Monday’s meeting, saying he has “broad shoulders” to accept blame. Schwarz was disappointed Hader had not contacted her directly after her father’s death, and Hader replied by saying he “was very sorry” while apologizing for not reaching out personally.
WHAT ABOUT TRAFFIC SIGNALS?
Canadian County property and business owner Henry Heinrich, who lives east of El Reno, thanked commissioners for their efforts to make the SH-66/Banner Road intersection safer for people traveling through.
This includes a mix of student traffic, farm truck and equipment traffic, oilfield traffic, commercial truck traffic, OKC West Livestock truck traffic, and the general public.
Heinrich shared concerns about why no progress occurred after a September 2018 resolution, signed by Commissioner Hader and District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart, that approved the county’s participation with ODOT in a traffic signal project at SH-66 and Banner Road.
That resolution outlined a maintenance agreement for new signals to be installed at the intersection.
“Signal upgrades can be achieved by using existing poles and changing out the flashing lights to signal lights,” Heinrich said. “A project doing exactly this was awarded by ODOT in July 2019 at an intersection at Waterloo Road and Highway 74, at a bid price of $193,114, with construction time allotted at 30 days.”
Heinrich questioned the proposal to install a roundabout at the intersection, wondering whether there is ample space for large trucks.
“If these are so beneficial, why are they not implemented at other intersections on the state highway system?” he said.
Heinrich, who owns a business with multiple trucks and employees who cross through the intersection daily, said he and several other area residents believe a “full signal light operation” is the best solution.
A third Canadian County resolution was prepared after an early December 2019 meeting between Commissioner Hader and state traffic engineers. This proposed resolution called for Canadian County to participate with ODOT on a traffic signal project at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection, Commissioner Hader explained.
Hader said he even offered to provide a higher “local match” – 30 percent instead of 20 percent – to move the signal project forward.
But ODOT officials contacted him soon after to say they believed the roundabout would be the most effective permanent solution, Hader noted. They also agreed to install a four-way stop as an interim measure.
“This is all ODOT’s state highway right-of-way,” Hader emphasized. “It is not my decision, or this board’s decision, as to what safety features ODOT has along this highway.”
Schwarz told Commissioner Hader that ODOT has decided on the roundabout because Hader did not agree to provide maintenance of new signal lights.
“I’m trying to follow the rule of law,” Hader responded.
To which Schwarz replied, “It’s a play on words. Yes it is.”
A maintenance agreement is in place for Canadian County to maintain the existing flashing lights at SH-66 and Banner Road.
“So you’re not setting a precedent by signing the maintenance agreement,” Heinrich told Hader.
“I have a problem with the economics of a roundabout, and the timing. When you can have a signalization project put in for $190,000 and you’re talking about the county having to pay $90,000 for engineering and everything else on the roundabout. How does that make economic sense?”
Hader responded, saying ODOT officials told him they could not use the existing signal light poles and the cost of new equipment has risen sharply.
“They say these poles cannot be retrofitted for the kind of signal that they want there,” he said. “If I had the complete jurisdiction of this intersection, we would be done already.”