by Melissa Brunner
What a whacky week this has been along I-70! Twice, suspected criminal activity has shut down the highway - all lanes, both directions - from Auburn Rd. to K-99. Monday, it was because a man with anti-government writings on his vehicle allegedly made threats about dangerous chemicals being in his Junction City hotel room. Wednesday, it was sparked by an armed man in an RV allegedly threatening law enforcement. The first shutdown lasted nine hours. Wednesday's closure is at six hours as I write this.
What do you think of taking this precaution? The Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Department of Transportation say they are erring on the side of caution. While Monday's threat turned out to be unfounded, they say, what if it hadn't been? They didn't want to take the chance that vehicles would be driving past just as the truck exploded and released dangerous chemicals. As for Wednesday, well, let's just say bullets travel, and would you want to be the one driving along when and if the suspect decides to shoot?
Regardless of whether you think authorities went too far in shutting down the highway, I do hope they review this week and assess if there could be improvements in how they make the public aware of the closure. KDOT did an excellent job of relaying information to the media (and public) through Twitter, Facebook and emailed news releases. Our station used that information to keep our website updated and put a crawl about the closure over daytime programming.
However, if you HADN"T been plugged in, would you have been informed? Just an observation on my drive - which takes me along Hwy. 24 from east of Hwy. 75, then over the Westgate Bridge to Wanamaker. There was no signage along Hwy. 24 before you got to the Hwy. 75 interchange. My suggestion for a next time I hope never comes? Get a mobile road info sign to alert people of the closure before you get to Hwy. 75, since you would have needed to stay on Hwy. 24 if you plan to go west of Auburn Road. Also, the permanent road info sign on the north end of the Westgate Bridge simply said, "Detour Alert: I70 Interchange." I would suggest the sign clearly state that I70 was closed west of Auburn Road. There also was no sign between Hwy. 75 and Wanamaker Road. However, I understand there was a more detailed posting in downtown.
Again, that's just my observation, and I emphasize that overall KHP and KDOT did an excellent job getting the word out while, at the same time, handling the situations at hand - in triple-digit heat, I might add!
And here's an added bonus for KDOT - they, along with Topeka and Shawnee County, have been studying the Hwy. 24 corrider. A lot more drivers just got a lot more familiar with the route this week and can offer their feedback! I'm sure you all enjoyed a warm welcome from the folks in Silver Lake, Rossville, St. Marys, Belvue and Wamego along the way, too!