Friday, April 24, 2020

True meaning of the word service


Kevin J. Shelton, left, with his family.
By Kevin J. Shelton Growing up in the work zone. Yes, that is my story. You see, when I helped to start the company, C-Hawkk Construction Inc., I was only 19 years old. I remember opening my first set of plans and wondering, “Where do we start?”
Then my father made a statement to me, “Son, every sign that anyone will provide for this project will say the same thing, and what matters is the service that you provide behind that sign.” That has stuck with me for all of the 31 years of my career in traffic control.
I set out to try to give the best response and service that I could to that general contractor no matter the distance or time of day that a call would come into our office. I still to this day believe with everything in me how important that statement remains, but I must be honest as I write this blog about work zone safety. I believe I have learned that there are more important things that I must share.
You see as I was answering the phones and personally responding to all the calls for service and repairs, traffic switches and road closures, it became clearer to me than ever before that there are people depending upon what I do each and every day, and I am not just talking about the general contractor. Every person who drove through one of the work zones I have deployed is relying upon that work zone to get them home to their family. And then I realized that MY FAMILY was also relying upon me just as much to make it home.
Do I have personal accounts of close calls and near misses on the highway? YES I DO, and probably too many to list here. It doesn’t take too many drums knocked out of your hand while walking down the side of a roadway by a vehicle speeding by to get your attention or the sound of screeching tires on the pavement to absolutely scare you to death. That is when I decided to do everything that I could possibly do to train myself and those working with me better.
I searched for ways and ideas to make our company and employees safer from the very first day they began to work for us.  I learned through sharing those experiences of close calls and training through a great association I became involved with, ATSSA , the American Traffic Safety Services Association, which provides training, corroboration and ideas, that we could as a company do our job and do it safer.  Not only could we become safer as a company, but what we provided to the traveling public became safer as well. That is when I realized the true meaning of the word “SERVICE” that my father had been trying to teach me those many years ago. Thanks Dad!
Kevin J. Shelton is the owner/estimator of C-Hawkk Construction, Inc., in Eudora

 

 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Please pay attention behind the wheel


Kent Portenier, left, with his family.
My name is Kent Portenier and I am the Equipment Operator Specialist on the Phillipsburg Subarea crew. I have worked for KDOT for nearly 30 years and have seen all kinds of things happen on the road.
One incident that really sticks out is from about 10 years ago. Our crew was laying an overlay patch on U.S. 36 west of Phillipsburg and it was the first time we were using a new traffic control setup with a 21-cone lead-in and 6-cone taper, along with our required signage. 
I was flagging that day. About an hour into the project, I had a small pickup stopped and waiting to proceed through the work zone. I could hear another vehicle approaching, so I stepped to the center line so it could see me and the stop paddle I was holding.
As the vehicle approached the lead-in cones, I could tell that the driver was not slowing down. I started waving my sign to get the driver’s attention, but it wasn’t working. I knew then that it was not going to get stopped and was going to hit the waiting pickup in the queue. 
I took off towards the ditch just as the driver hit the corner of the stopped pickup. The driver also swerved into the ditch and fortunately missed hitting me as I was running to safety. The vehicle continued on another hundred yards are so before finally coming to a stop.
The driver said he didn’t see any of the six warning signs or 21 lead-in cones. He had to have been distracted by something to have missed all of that. Thankfully no one was hurt, but it could have been a lot worse if things would have been off by a few seconds or inches.
We never know what the traveling public is going to do when we are out working, so we have to always be as prepared as possible. New technology, such as portable rumble strips, have helped to improve safety for us, but we still need drivers to do their part and pay attention behind the wheel.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Put the focus on safety

Hi, my name is Michael Schneider I am the Highway Maintenance Supervisor at the Marion Subarea office. The increase in distracted driving has caused what I perceive as a decrease in the safety for those who work along our highways.

We’re aware of the risk involved daily while performing these duties on the roads or in a formal work zone. We all have stories of near misses, cars blowing by the flagman or the approaching vehicle that does not move over or slow down. My concern is the increased frequency that these events are taking place.

Over my 27 years with KDOT there has always been the occasional truck getting rear-ended or crash attenuator struck from behind, but now it seems to me to be a common occurrence. Every SNICE event, I expect to hear about a KDOT truck being hit, usually multiple, a KHP or other law enforcement or emergency vehicle being struck.

Seldom does a day go by while performing road surveillance that a car or truck does not pull out or turn right in front of me. Or that I experience the cringing feeling and brace to be struck from behind by an approaching vehicle that does not move over or slow down while I’m sitting on the shoulder waiting to pick up road debris. The reports of flagmen almost being hit or the motorists who just blew right pass the workers performing their duties in the work zone has become alarming and is unacceptable.

My wish is that the traveling public would become more aware that the constant need to be on a cellphone, whether it is talking (even hands free) or texting, is putting the safety of themselves and of those working in traffic at a greater risk of injury or possibly death.

We as highway workers would love nothing more than to provide the traveling public with a smooth and uninterrupted trip, but we all know that to provide that there must be maintenance and construction activities involved. Please put the phone down. When you see a KDOT truck, law enforcement or emergency vehicle, please move over or slow down. When approaching a work zone, please pay attention to the warning signs, the flagman and workers.

I feel we all can work together to reverse this alarming trend by simply doing what is responsible and giving our complete focus to the act of driving while behind the wheel. It matters to you; it matters to your family; it matters to the highway workers, law enforcement, emergency personal and their families. We want everyone to return home safely at the end of the day.

Stay safe and wash your hands!


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

This is why it’s important to move over


By Caleb Provo
I was only eight months into my job at the Kansas Turnpike when my vehicle was struck on July 9, 2019. In less than one year, I already have a moment I’ll look back on and be grateful it didn’t end up a different way.
Last summer, I was with our crew doing our annual paint striping at mile marker 8.8, which is just north of the Oklahoma border. I was sitting in a dump truck with an attenuator attached to it. This was blocking the passing lane of the roadway. And a different vehicle was behind me informing traffic of the lane blockage.
Things were proceeding as normal, when I saw it out of my side mirror. In a quick instant, I see a semi that hadn’t moved over coming right at my tail end! There was no way the driver could stop in time, and he tried to—unsuccessfully—squeeze between me and the barrier wall to avoid a collision.
Ultimately, the semi driver ended up crashing into the back end of my attenuator, and I radioed to our teams that I had been hit. Then things got even crazier. A piece of metal from the attenuator broke off and pierced my fuel tank, which in and of itself is a dangerous situation.
However, to make matters worse, the impact also caused the semi to catch fire. I’m glad I was there in that moment and uninjured because I helped the driver, and his wife who was with him, out of the on-fire semi. They wanted to try and save their belongings, and I told them, “Stuff is replaceable, you aren’t.”
It’s good they got out when they did. I tried using an extinguisher on the semi, but within a matter of minutes, it was completely engulfed in flames. In less than 20 minutes, the entire thing was destroyed. You could barely recognize it.
Still to this day, I don’t know exactly why they didn’t move over, but I’m so glad this incident didn’t end up worse than what it was. Please, take a lesson from this — pay attention, read signage and move over for roadway workers. Our lives truly do depend on it.
 
Caleb Provo is a Structures Worker for the Kansas Turnpike Authority in Wichita

Monday, April 20, 2020

Never become complacent

Rick Carson, seated in center, is surrounded by his family.

My name is Rick Carson and I am the Equipment Operator Specialist for the Syracuse Subarea office. I am coming up on my fifth year as a KDOT employee, having served as Specialist since July 2017.
During my short tenure as a KDOT employee, I have seen quite a few different circumstances that could have turned out very bad. I learned from early on, that the best thing you can do to keep yourself safe is to keep your head on a constant swivel.
One of the most unforgettable experiences happened to me in the summer of 2019.We were patching holes on K-27 in the south part of Syracuse. The stretch of roadway is a four-lane undivided highway. The crew was working on the inside lane of the northbound lane. We had set up our work zone prior to beginning work with all the proper signs, cones, attenuator and a wedge diverting traffic into the right-hand lane. 
At some point that morning, I was standing along the center line, but still in the lane we were working in. There was some debris that had rolled over the center line, and I was going to step over the center line to sweep it back over into the hole. I was facing the north and looked to make sure no traffic was coming. 
I never turned to look south, because, there shouldn’t have been any traffic coming from that way, because we had our wedge set up pushing them right. WRONG! A truck coming from the south had crossed over the double yellow line. It was traveling north in the southbound lane and what was probably over the speed limit.
Luckily, one of my co-workers was looking that way and was able to get my attention, and I was able to step out of the way.
Thinking about it later that day, the one word that came to my mind was COMPLACENT. That day, at that particular time, I had become complacent and overly comfortable with my surroundings.
To my fellow KDOT workers, I would just like to remind you all that no matter what you are doing, always take the extra time to look around and make sure that you are doing it carefully. And, always watch out for your co-workers.
To the traveling public, KDOT does what they do, to try and keep your family safe on the highways. So in your travels, if/when you come up on any workers, anywhere, PLEASE, slow down, move over and obey the signs. Drive like it is your family out there along the side of the road. Because, we ARE somebody’s family.



Monday, February 3, 2020

KDOT’s Cost Share Program accepting applications for spring 2020



After a highly successful first round of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s Cost Share Program last fall, a second round of applications are now being accepted for spring 2020. Applications will be accepted from Feb. 3 through April 15.

The Cost Share Program is designed to provide financial assistance that leverages state funding with local and private funding for projects related to economic development as well as job growth and retention. It will provide funding to local entities for construction projects that improve safety, increase the total transportation investment and help both rural and urban areas of the state improve their transportation system.

A minimum of 15% non-state cash match is required. Additional consideration will be given to project applications that commit more than the minimum required match amount. A portion of this funding is part of the remaining one-time $50 million approved this fiscal year by the Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly, which requires a 25% minimum match.

All transportation projects are eligible, including roadway (on and off the state system), rail, airport, bicycle/pedestrian and public transit. They must be construction projects that address an important transportation need such as promoting safety, improving access or mobility, improving condition or relieving congestion. Selection criteria will include consideration of projects that meet program objectives, eligibility categories and requirements. Geographic distribution will also be considered during project selection.

An application form and a fact sheet on the Cost Share Program can be found at www.KSDot.org or with the links below:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

KDOT announces Kansas airport improvement projects




Topeka – Twenty-three projects have been selected for Kansas Airport Improvement Program (KAIP) funding for the purpose of planning, constructing or rehabilitating public use general aviation airports, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.
KAIP receives $5 million annually through the T-WORKS transportation program and requires airport sponsors to share in the project costs by paying a minimum of 5% of the total project. The KDOT’s Division of Aviation, which manages the program, considered 113 project applications this year with a combined total project value of more than $27 million.
The selection board identified $4.2 million of improvements to address the top 15% most impactful airport improvements across the state. 
“Aviation represents $20.6 billion in total economic impact for the state of Kansas,” said Bob Brock, KDOT Director of Aviation. “We’ve assessed the remaining $23.5 million of needs and are working with communities to identify best-value strategic improvements through KAIP.”   


You can see the full list of communities here:

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A slice of KDOT life: fighting frozen fog


This time of year, KDOT crews are busy trying to stay ahead of the weather.
Here’s a snapshot of a recent battle against frozen fog.


Christy DeSantis, Equipment Operator, back in the Hutchinson shop after spraying brine in advance of frozen fog.

It’s Friday morning, Jan. 24, at the District Five offices in Hutchinson, and supervisors see that the forecast calls for frozen fog that night and into the next morning. Extreme humidity, left by a barrage of rain and snow, is about to meet freezing temperatures.

So across much of south central Kansas, District Five crews set out to lay down a layer of brine – saltwater – a melting agent to help keep an icy glaze from forming.


They focus on what KDOT crews call “the criticals” -- the bridge decks that tend to freeze faster because they are not insulated by the ground. And the curves, crossovers and 
turnarounds -- where angling tires are more apt to lose traction on slick spots.

Dave Alexander, Equipment Operator Senior, on a brine run on K-96 between Hutchinson and Wichita.

So that morning, in just one part of the multi-county effort, two KDOT trucks and their drivers work in tandem to spray brine in both directions on K-96 between Hutchinson and Wichita.

The frozen-fog fighters: Dave Alexander, Equipment Operator Senior, with about 20 years of service to KDOT, and Christy DeSantis, Equipment Operator, with about two years of experience.

They each drive a big orange truck with flashing lights, one with a 2,000-gallon brine tank, the other with 1,600 gallons. She takes the inside lane. He, the outside. She goes ahead. He stays behind. Traffic passes in between.

Here and there, they stop and turn to catch the crossover and turnaround lanes.
Using controls in their toasty cabs, they spray brine intermittently as they roll along.

In Alexander’s truck, a monitor shows the air temperature, 33 degrees, and road temperature, 39. It’s around 11 a.m. All is calm. They keep working methodically.

You can see dull-white parallel lines, long ribbons down the highway, where the brine nozzles have sprayed directly down.

It’s all part of an effort to keep motorists from spinning out.

The crews do what they can.

The rest is up to Mother Nature – and the motorists.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tips for preventing static electricity fires at the pump

Each season brings their own set of obstacles to overcome, especially when it comes to transportation. In the summer, we deal with extreme heat that can wreak havoc on vehicles. Likewise, there are some certain things to remember to look out for in the colder months as well. Each week we will discuss a winter transportation challenge that could be overlooked. This week’s topic is shocking: 




Static electricity while fueling up your car: static electricity is an electric charge caused by an imbalance of electrons on the surface of a material. For example, static electricity is that little shock you feel when you put on your coat or what makes your hair stand on up after you take off a hat. 

Static Electricity poses a real threat when someone is refueling their vehicle and they don’t take steps to release the static electricity buildup after exiting. An unknowing person can have static electricity buildup, and upon touching the gas pump, a spark ignites the gasoline vapors around the nozzle and a flash fire is created. The fire will continue to burn until the fuel supply is cut off. Serious injury and property damage can occur in these situations. 
According to a Purdue University report There are ways that you can prevent static electricity fires while at the pump: 

1. Turn your vehicle off when you refuel your car.

2. Do not return to your vehicle while refueling. This is how most static electricity fires begin. Drivers re-enter their vehicles for various reasons, and when they depart to reach for the gas nozzle, they don’t discharge the static electricity buildup.

3. If you must return to your vehicle, you can discharge the buildup by touching the outside metal portion of your vehicle — if it’s far enough away from the gas tank. 

According to the report, if you find yourself in a situation where a flash fire occurs while at the pump, don’t panic. Simply leave the nozzle in the vehicle fill pipe. Make sure everyone is out of the vehicle and alert the station attendant immediately. They can shut off the pumps with emergency controls. 

Always be aware of your surroundings when refueling, when in doubt, just touch the metal part of your vehicle before reaching for the nozzle, especially when its cold and dry outside

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Winds of change: Kansas personalized plates get new design





A new design is breezing its way onto Kansas personalized license plates starting this month. The design, “Powering the Future,” features a series of turbines set against a Kansas sunrise and pays tribute to the state’s history and status of embracing wind energy. Kansas is ranked number one in the nation for wind energy production.

The Kansas Department of Revenue began issuing the plates on Jan. 15. Customers with the 2015 “Sunflower State” personalized plate may retain their plates as a keepsake, but must switch to the new design if they want to keep their current personalization. Notifications will be mailed 45 days prior to their regular registration due date. To order the new “Powering the Future Plate,” visit your local county treasurer’s office with your current registration receipt, photo ID and proof of insurance. Cost of the plates is $45.50 plus normal registration fees and taxes.

Citizens with standard vehicle Kansas tags will not be affected by the design change.

In addition to offering personalized license plates, the Department of Revenue also offers more than 40 distinctive license plate options, covering interests from collegiate pride to cancer awareness and more.

Most of the distinctive plates are available to everyone, but some have requirements such as being a veteran or firefighter. Customers pay a one-time issuance fee for the plate and then an annual contribution to the plate’s cause or organization, in addition to the standard registration fees and property taxes.

According to the Department of Revenue, the top five currently issued distinctive plates are:

In God We Trust                               18,160
Kansas State University                 12,054
University of Kansas                        6,504
Breast Cancer Awareness             4,465
Pittsburg State University             3,687

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

10 ways to protect your ride from wild winter weather




Americans drive over 13,476 miles per year.  That’s over 1,000 mile per month.  And while Americans usually drive less during the winter months (January – March), many of those miles are trekking through snow and ice and winter weather that can wreak havoc on a vehicle.  Experts say that protecting a vehicle from the inside out is the best defense against winter weather.

 According to DMV.org, while today’s vehicles are designed to handle inclement weather, drivers still need to take some basic steps to protect their vehicle before and during those colder months:
1.       Check your fluids! Replace or refill if needed.
2.       Check your tires! Are they winter-weather ready? Consider snow tires depending on where you live;
3.       Thoroughly inspect battery, cables, terminals.
4.       Pack an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, blanket, gloves, hat, cat litter, sand, ice scraper, small shovel and snacks;
5.       Keep glycerin de-icer handy in case your locks freeze or you need to de-ice your windows and mirrors. It can also help if your locks get frozen.

The outside of your vehicle is often overlooked during colder months.  However, it’s just as important to keep the outside clean and protected during cold weather as during warmer weather.  AAA recommends taking the following steps to protect your car during these snowy winter months:

1.       Wax your car before the winter months
2.       Wash your car at least every 10-14 days during the snowy winter months and on the first snow-free day following a snow event if possible.
3.       Don’t drive through deep snow.  This can really pack into the undercarriage of your car;
4.       Avoid large puddles of water.  Steer around them if you can.
5.       Seal your undercarriage to keep water and salt out.

If you haven’t taken time to safeguard your vehicle yet this winter, it’s not too late. Take time to perform basic maintenance checks and stow emergency supplies in your vehicle before you head out on your next road trip.   And don’t ignore your car’s exterior finish just because it’s cold outside. Yourmechanic.com suggests washing your car once temperatures are in the upper 30’s or 40’s.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

We got the beet! 7 facts about beet juice on highways


You don't have to work for the Kansas Department of Transportation to know we use beet juice to help battle ice on highways during the winter.

But could you pass a pop quiz on it? Do you know how to explain why KDOT crews use sugar beet juice to fight wintry road conditions? 

Think of it this way: The sugar in sugar beet juice offers sweet benefits for ice-fighting efforts on the highways, especially when pre-treating trouble areas like bridges, which tend to ice up faster than non-elevated pavement. There’s a chemistry at work, says Jim Frye, Field Maintenance Manager/Emergency Coordinator with KDOT.

Frye recently gave beet and brine application training to south central Kansas snow-and-ice crews in Larned and Wichita. 

Jim Frye talks with District Five employees during beet/brine application training on Jan. 14 in Wichita.


Here are seven points -- and a little science lesson -- from the teacher that could help you pass the quiz and explain it to others:


  • Beet juice added to brine (saltwater) is especially useful with temperatures from 15 down to 5 degrees. That’s because beet juice, as Frye says, “slows the process of water molecules forming into (ice) crystals. Come to find out, sugar helps the water molecules from freezing solid down in these lower temperatures. It keeps it slushy, which is what we want.”
  • Because beet juice is sticky, it holds ice-fighting brine to pavement longer.
  • Other advantages: By using a mix of beet and brine, it takes less brine, so it lowers the corrosive effect of the salt in brine – which helps cut down on road and bridge repair. It also reduces the amount of salt seeping into the environment.
  • Does beet juice look brownish and get on vehicles? Yes, but it will wash off with water.
  • KDOT uses beet juice to pretreat or treat highways at more than 20 locations around the state.
  • KDOT has used beet juice for about five years now.
  • The beet juice comes from an Iowa supplier. 

Remember that crews work hard to clear Kansas roads. Make sure you give them plenty of room to work, and check www.kandrive.org for updated road conditions. 


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The tricky job of patching highways in Kansas

Crews at work filling potholes in north central Kansas 


By Ashley Perez
North Central Kansas 
Public Affairs Manager

Highway maintenance supervisors check their routes regularly for potholes and more. So when Kort St. Clair, Supervisor in McPherson, saw potholes on I-135, he sent his crew out as soon as possible. Equipment Operators came from Council Grove with equipment to help other Equipment Operators from McPherson as soon as they received St. Clair’s assignment. But little did they know that in a couple weeks they would be tackling the same potholes again. But why? 

Equipment Operator rakes material over the pothole while another Equipment
Operator walks behind the truck and sprays material on other areas.  
Several methods of patching are used across the state, and unfortunately it is sometimes hard to tell which of those methods will be the best to use. When patching on the warm December day, the crew chose to use a method called spray patching. Spray patching is when a pothole or crack is thoroughly cleaned using equipment to remove any loose debris.

Hot emulsion oil is then sprayed in the hole or crack to allow an aggregate, such as gravel, to bond and fill the voids. 

In early January, the crew was sent back out to fill the same potholes but this time with a different method, using a cold-weather patch. 

This mix is used as a temporary fix in lower temperatures to fill in the pothole. Finding the best method with varying conditions during the winter can be tricky. 

Even with a perfect pothole patch, it is still vulnerable to break open again due to freeze and thaw cycles. The crew will monitor that area to confirm that the cold weather patch holds up until more permanent repairs can be made to the road. 

“Not every pothole repair is the same but our crews will keep working on them to keep highways in good condition,” St. Clair said. “I ask that you please move over and slow down when driving through our work zones so that highway workers can return home safely to their families.” 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

KDOT’s old Lawrence subarea facility demolished



During the last week of 2019 the old Lawrence subarea facility located in north Lawrence across the road from Teepee Junction was demolished.  The original building was constructed in 1964 at a cost of $74,262, which works out to a little over $15 a square foot and was used until early 2016, when the remaining personnel were moved in to a new facility on East 25th St. constructed in partnership with Douglas County Public Works/Zoning and Codes.

Over the years the facility housed the Lawrence Construction office, Maintenance Personnel, Geology office and during some part of the 1980’s the Kansas Highway Patrol.  In 2015 the Lawrence Geology office was officially moved to the Topeka Geology office located at KDOT’s Gage Boulevard facility.

KDOT will continue to use the site, however, there are not any plans to construct any new buildings on this site.

In 2019 a KDOT facility in Eureka was demolished due to 2018 tornado damage and a new facility was remodeled and constructed.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

New law requires escort vehicle drivers to be registered

An escort vehicle follows a overwidth/overweight vehicle .


A new law passed by the Kansas Legislature went into effect on Jan. 1 that requires escort vehicle companies/service providers working with overwidth/overweight vehicles to be registered with the Kansas Secretary of Transportation, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The statute states that escort vehicle drivers must be registered, successfully complete an escort vehicle training course, and have a valid driver’s license. There is no fee to register or to renew a registration. Registration is valid for one year.

“This change has added requirements between the escorts and the oversize/overweight vehicles, which will help improve safety and communication so there is a better understanding of the routes to be used and where everyone should be when moving these loads,” said Dominique Shannon, KDOT Bridge Evaluation Engineer. 

KDOT worked with agency partners and law enforcement on the registration requirements for escort vehicle service providers. Starting this month, if an overwidth/overweight vehicle gets stopped for any reason by a law enforcement officer, the officer may verify that any driver escorting the overwidth/overweight vehicle is registered to operate in Kansas.

“If a driver escorting an overwidth/overweight vehicle is not registered, the officer may require the load to stop until it has a registered escort driver,” Shannon said.

To register as an escort vehicle service provider, visit the K-TRIPS website at www.k-trips.com and create a user account. After a user account is created, all required registration information for the vehicles and the drivers can be entered through the Company Data. To ask questions or for more details, there is a live chat option on the website or call 785-368-6501 during business hours.

Monday, January 6, 2020

KDOT burns pollinator habitat to support new growth


KDOT employees burned about 15 acres of native plant habitat to make room for more plants and to remove
unwanted vegetation.  

Working amidst sheets of smoke while dodging charred grass shards floating down from above, on the morning of Nov. 25 employees from the KDOT Ottawa and Garnett offices burned off about 15 acres of native plant pollinator habitat at the I-35 Homewood rest areas.

The ground was initially burned in 2017, after Homewood was selected as the first location in Kansas for the project to create pollinator habitat for the Monarch butterfly. I-35 is known as the ‘Monarch Highway,’ where the colorful Monarchs stop frequently on their migrations between Mexico and Canada.

By burning the area, unwanted vegetation species have been removed and nutrients have been recycled back into the soil to support new growth of the milkweed and wildflowers. 

 A grant from the organization Monarch Watch provided funding to plant the area with 1,152 milkweed plugs, as milkweed is considered a key plant to the survival of the Monarch. In addition to placing the milkweed plugs, KDOT crews planted a mixture consisting of 23 species of native wildflowers and grasses at Homewood.

Melissa Davidson, Engineering Technician Specialist with the Bureau of Right-of-Way, was on hand to assist with November’s controlled burn. “Native grasses like to be burned in the fall” instead of the spring, she explained. "The prescribed burn helped remove unwanted species from the area, and recycled nutrients back to the soil to support the new growth of the milkweed and wildflowers. 

Davidson said that since the special pollinator habitat was established in 2017, the rest areas have experienced a noticeable uptick in the numbers of brilliant Monarch visitors.

To prepare for the burn, Ottawa Supervisor Bruce Myres said the crews first cut a 15-foot path through tall grass on the border of the burn area. 

Myres lit the fires using propane and a weed burner, working in sections from east to west. “Basically, we did a back burn,” he said. The work began at the rest area on the southbound lanes, with crew members wielding shovels and a leaf blower to put out the fires as they reached the edges of the habitat.

“When we burned it the first time, the native grasses really came back,” Myres recalled. 

Myres said that KDOT plans to establish a new area of pollinator habitat at the junction of I-35 and U.S. 59. Other efforts to develop habitat in southeast Kansas continue at the rest areas on U.S. 69 at Trading Post and U.S. 169/U.S. 400 in Montgomery County.

Davidson has created a webpage dedicated to providing information and updates on KDOT’s pollinator habitat efforts. The page can be accessed at  http://pollinatorpartners.ksdot.org/ and is also on the KDOT website.

“Little by little people are learning about what we are doing, and we’ve gotten many great comments about it,” Davidson said.