By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation and Canadian County Commissioners have agreed to move ahead with plans to permanently improve an intersection west of Yukon after a public outcry.
But just what the State Highway 66/Banner Road project will entail – new traffic signals, a roundabout or making permanent the intersection’s “temporary” four-way stop with other safety measures – has not yet been determined.
“It’s been seven-and-a-half months since my dad was killed there,” Yukon’s Candace (Davis) Schwarz told commissioners at their Monday morning meeting. “I want something done. I don’t care what you do. Do something.”
Canadian County Commissioners, at their weekly meeting, unanimously approved a project agreement with ODOT for an “intersection modification” at SH-66 and Banner Road.
Through the agreement, ODOT would cover the construction cost of up to $450,000 from the state’s traffic safety fund. Canadian County would pay $25,000 toward the engineering cost – which has been reduced from an earlier $94,000 share.
Top options being considered as a permanent improvement are installation of a roundabout and a new four-way traffic signal.
Some citizens, including District 1 County Commissioner Marc Hader, believe “interim” measures in place since February may be the best solution: A four-way stop with flashing lights, large advance warning signs and rumble strips. Hader thinks adding “step-down” speed limits also should be explored.
“I think the intersection, as it is, is very safe,” said Hader, referring to the temporary upgrades. “We’re getting positive feedback.”
At least one public hearing is planned to solicit input on the project before state transportation officials decide how to proceed with the permanent upgrade at SH-66 and Banner Road.
The intersection is in ODOT’s right-of-way within an unincorporated area of Commissioner Hader’s district.
“We put this (agreement) on the agenda at ODOT’s request,” said Hader, the Canadian County Commission chairman. “We’ve put four resolutions forward and the (state) transportation commission has never been willing to take them up.”
The agreement approved Monday between ODOT and commissioners shows an estimated $450,000 construction cost for the SH-66/Banner Road intersection modification. ODOT division engineer Trenton January emphasized this is the “maximum” amount that the State Transportation Commission has authorized for the project.
Schwarz’s father, Ray Lee Davis, was killed on Nov. 24, 2019 at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection in a crash she says should never have happened.
A longtime Yukon businessman, 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.
Oklahoma City’s Donald Biffle, the semi-truck driver who allegedly did not stop at the intersection, has been charged in Canadian County District Court with second-degree murder.
If the current traffic safety measures now in place had been there Nov. 24, Schwarz said her father would be alive.
“I’m not an engineer,” she said, noting the heavy price her family paid. “I want something done. This has been going on for years.
“Somebody’s neglecting it, whether it’s this board or ODOT. But at this point, I don’t care.
Somebody make a decision. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t care if you do a roundabout. I don’t care what you do. But do something.”
Canadian County property owner Henry Heinrich told commissioners he posted a Facebook survey to solicit citizen input on what they’d prefer to see implemented at the intersection.
Most respondents travel through the intersection regularly and are Canadian County taxpayers, Heinrich noted.
“Of the responses, 29 preferred a four-way stop as is in place,” Heinrich reported. “Twenty-six preferred a four-way stop or four-way signal. Five preferred four-way signal lights and two preferred a roundabout. One preferred any of the three options.”
Heinrich read a message he received from a state trooper who worked last November’s fatality crash. The trooper said the objective is to get vehicles to stop at that intersection – and a roundabout would not do that and is “confusing” to many people.
New traffic signals with four-way stoplights would provide the desired effect – and the crash that killed Davis would not have happened had they been in place, the trooper advised Heinrich.
The trooper has worked several traffic accidents at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection during his career and told him most wouldn’t have occurred if the lights had been there.
Heinrich told commissioners he supports the four-way stop with rumble strips and increased signage.
“Most people believe it would be the best, safest and most economical way to safely modify the intersection,” he said.
After proposing a roundabout earlier this year as a “pavement solution,” Commissioner Hader said ODOT officials determined it would be a safe choice for the SH-66/Banner Road intersection. Hader realizes many Canadian County residents are not familiar with a roundabout – which is more prevalent in other states and Europe.
A formal design for a roundabout at SH-66/Banner Road has not started, District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said.
The proposal would be a “single-lane” roundabout that’s wide enough to accommodate semi-trucks, Stewart noted.
Kevin Cunningham, whose father was nearly killed more than 25 years ago in a serious crash at SH-66/Banner Road, said he believes four-way traffic signals would be the best solution. New lights initially were on the table but then the roundabout became the preferred option, he added.
“Why the change?” the lifelong Canadian County resident asked. “Is this purely about the money?”
There has been some question about who would be responsible for the cost of maintaining new traffic signal lights. Canadian County maintains the lights now at that intersection as part of a 2003 resolution approved by previous county commissioners, Cunningham noted.
“Why is it different now?” he said. “Why is there such hesitation to take care of a four-way, fully lighted stop there now?”
If the only reason the roundabout is “on the table” is the cost, Cunningham asked officials how much it would take to install four-way stoplights there.
“We’ll either pay for it ourselves or we’ll get the money to cover it,” he said. “Personally, I’m tired of hearing this intersection come up. I was 13 when this intersection entered my life. My dad was almost killed there, and I couldn’t do anything about it then.
“But I can do something about it now.”
Commissioner Hader reiterated that he favors keeping the current temporary four-way stop with flashing lights in place and adding descending speed limits as vehicles approach the intersection. He prefer that to new traffic signals.
The District 1 commissioner referred to the four-way stop at the U.S.-81/SH-152 intersection at Division Street in Union City.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if the traffic counts are very similar to this (66/Banner) intersection.
The dynamics are pretty similar, although they do have ‘step-downs’ in speed which I’d encourage be put in place here.”
Citing the feedback they’ve received from constituents, Commissioners Stewart and Hader both said residents appear strongly opposed to having a roundabout there.
Stewart pointed to Heinrich’s survey indicating most people are happy with the interim upgrades that were made.
“Is there any chance of leaving that as a four-way stop?” Commissioner Stewart asked ODOT’s engineer. “The citizenry seems to feel that is the safest thing out there right now, and it’s working.”
The agreement signed Monday by the county commissioners does not call for a roundabout, January emphasized.
“No, it doesn’t say ‘roundabout’,” he said. “It says ‘intersection modification’.”
The ODOT division engineer said he needed a resolution to move forward on the SH-66/Banner Road intersection project. One or two public hearings will be conduct before ODOT determines the best permanent solution.
“When we go do public outreaches, we don’t come with one option,” January said. “We come with multiple options as a department to get the feedback from the public.”
DON’T WANT ‘SECOND-BEST’ SOLUTION
Previous county commissioners signed an agreement to take care of maintenance of traffic control devices at the SH-66/Banner Road intersection, District 2 Commissioner David Anderson noted.
“I understand that signal improvements – which is the obvious preferred solution to the people in that area – would cost less money to construct (than a roundabout),” he said.
“But it would involve an ongoing commitment of maintenance and cost to the county because of that prior agreement that commissioners before us made.
“I like to make decisions based on what’s best for the area. I think improving this intersection is a must. … getting improvements made there is important.”
Anderson said he trusts ODOT engineers that the solution they put before commissioners is “something that will work” at this intersection, which is part of the state highway system.
He doesn’t want to take the second-best solution.
“If a signaling project could be installed for less money – but the reason we’re not going that direction is because of the (maintenance) cost to us – that’s a decision I don’t support,” the District 2 commissioner said.
“I want to spend taxpayer dollars in the most efficient way, and I want to have the safest intersection that public funds can provide the people of that area.”