Eighty-five years out of date and deadly. That's what one community has to say about the guardrails on nine different bridges.

Now, after a KAKE On Your Side investigation, the state is moving up plans to fix those bridges.

"I think this is... I would call this a killer post, yes," Robert Green told us back in May, pointing to a concrete guardrail on a small, two-lane highway in Comanche County.

We were standing where his son, Rocky, died back in 2006. While crossing the bridge, police reports indicate Rocky Green fell asleep at the wheel, drifted across the center line and ran straight into the guardrail.

This bridge was one of nine in the county with a solid concrete guardrail that dates back to the 1930s.

"We've lost six of our residents in my lifetime," said David Webb, editor of the Protection Press. "The first one I remember was a second cousin who was killed by hitting one of those bridges when I was in college."

After the most recent death back in December of 2021, Webb teamed up with Robert and another local paper, The Western Star, trying to bring the issue to the attention of someone in the state who could change these old guardrails for more modern ones with a little give to them, maybe even some shoulders on the highways.

"We always hear people saying don't hesitate to contact your state representatives and senators and we did," Webb said. "We got several hundred flyers printed that people around the county picked up (to mail to lawmakers)."

They also reached out to KAKE News Investigates. We followed up.

Last spring, the state told us only two of the bridges in Comanche County were slated for guardrail improvements starting in 2024.

"We would not just put one entire country in front of all the other counties if there isn't the data that shows that all of that work should go first," Julie Lorenz, Secretary of Transportation, told KAKE News in May. "We're trying, in the most practical way possible, to find ways to make improvements sooner than later. But sometimes it just really takes as long as it takes and we are trying to accelerate time frames wherever we can."

Webb, Green, and others weren't happy with that response.

"I was very disappointed in the response we got from KDOT," Webb told us in May. "Glowing about the fact that five miles of our highway was going to be improved and two of these bridges would be taken care of. The other seven were totally ignored in the letter and...neither of those two bridges have been involved in fatal accidents."

Later, Webb says, KDOT amended the plan to three bridges.

"The third bridge is the one on K-1, near the small community of Buttermilk," he said.  "It's where the college student was killed the day after Christmas last year.  I know her parents pushed hard for it to be included.  They literally have to drive by it everyday."

Then, a few weeks ago, Webb noticed something that indicated things had changed again.

"On a couple of trips to Coldwater, on two successive days, I saw KDOT surveyors working on the stretch of US 161/83, East of Protection," he said. "Each time I saw them they were at some of our blunt end bridges, which made me wonder."

So we asked the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) about the work. In an email, KDOT said it is "now in the design phase of improving the nine bridges with blunt ends in Comanche county," adding, "there will be a total of five separate projects to address all the locations, with anticipated work taking place from late 2024 through 2026."

"I was really pleased. We were glad that after 85 years these bridges are going to be upgraded," Webb said. "I know that a couple of small newspapers, of course, we had the help of KAKE TV, can't necessarily move a state bureaucracy. But, on the other hand, we were... we were very happy that it looks like something is finally going to be happened to these dangerous bridges."

Sadly, Robert Green didn't live to see the success of this project. He passed away earlier this fall. In May he told us the pain of returning to the site of his son's death would be worth it if it helped save someone else's life.

The nine bridges in Comanche County with these concrete guardrails are out of 70 statewide. KDOT said it plans to replace all of them by 2030.


Complete Statement from KDOT
KDOT is now in the design phase of improving the nine bridges with blunt ends in Comanche County.

There will be a total of five separate projects to address all the locations, with anticipated work taking place from late 2024 through 2026. The blunt ends currently on the bridge will be replaced with improvements, including either improved guardrails or extended structures that don't require guardrails. Details are still under consideration. In addition, these projects will add wider shoulders designed to improve safety along the corridor.

The purpose of these projects is to eliminate blunt ends or increase protection of motorists from such obstacles. This is done by moving obstacles further away from the roadway, expanding culverts, using rails that can deflect vehicles from obstacles and reducing the steepness of slopes so that a vehicle leaving the roadway has a better chance of traversing the slope and recovering. The flatter slope is designed to reduce the risk of more serious injury or damage. It creates what KDOT calls a clear zone. Building a clear zone often requires acquiring right of way - to provide the necessary additional space to flatten slopes and extend structures away from the roadway.

These projects are a continuation of work that has been ongoing. The first clear-zone improvement program project was already under development before the latest accident occurred. Since then, KDOT has continued to develop the program and began work on more projects.

This is part of the statewide initiative to address the approximately 70 blunt end bridge rails across the state by 2030.