By Tim Potter
South Central Kansas Public Affairs Manager
The Wheat State has its share of rural two-lane highways, and KDOT has a new initiative to improve some of them. It’s called the Clear Zone Safety Improvement Program, which KDOT created to focus on highways that don’t have enough right of way to widen or add shoulders and improve the clear zone.
Some might not be familiar with the term “clear zone.” The Federal Highway Administration defines a clear zone as “an unobstructed, traversable roadside area that allows a driver to stop safely, or regain control of a vehicle that has left the roadway.”
KDOT’s clear zone initiative is a $10 million annual program aimed mostly at roadways KDOT refers to as D and E routes.
According to Chris Herrick, KDOT Director of Planning and Development, the program was created to address serious-injury and fatal crashes on some of the state’s lower-volume highways with limited usable shoulders or no shoulders.
“This is part of KDOT’s effort to move toward a more systemic approach to safety,” said Herrick. “A systemic approach looks for road characteristics that may lead to higher crash frequency and severity. This is an example of field and headquarters personnel working together to address a safety need.”
The first step, Herrick said, is to purchase right of way and grade the highway to improve the shoulder width and side slopes. This allows a motorist who leaves the highway more opportunity to recover.
The next step is to pave the improved shoulder when KDOT does a light maintenance job, known as 1R, on the corridor.
Another key part of improving the clear zone is extending structures or moving obstructions farther away from the travel lanes.
Herrick said the program helps address roadway-departure crashes – one of the top contributing factors in fatal crashes.
Projects are being sought statewide, according to Herrick. So far, requests have been received from District Five and District Two in north central Kansas.
“As we proceed with the program, we will be making tweaks and communicating our project expectations to the district so they know exactly what type of projects we are looking to do,” Herrick said.