State saw need in 2012 for light at intersection, site of recent fatal wreck -
Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:40 pm
State saw need in 2012 for light at intersection, site of recent fatal wreck

JT Garrett is still healing from a summer traffic accident that caused him multiple injuries and drained him of the physical strength to get back on his motorcycle.

And the 65-year-old Papillion man whose life nearly ended at 204th and Harrison Streets still believes that perhaps it all could have been avoided.

“I would've probably never had a guy pull out in front of me if there had been a signal there,” he said.

The intersection along the Douglas and Sarpy County line has been the site of at least two bad traffic accidents recently — including one fatality Sunday.

The Nebraska Department of Roads said this week that the intersection qualifies for a traffic signal — and has for more than a year. Yet that time has passed without one being installed.

The Roads Department says it doesn't have the funds to install a signal yet, and other roads improvements are ahead of it on the schedule.

That is no comfort to Garrett, or the family of Dylan Krula, who died Sunday after his motorcycle collided with a vehicle there.

Krula, 19, was riding a 2008 Suzuki south on 204th Street about 4:20 p.m. when it struck the passenger side of a 2007 Volkswagen heading west on Harrison Street.

Krula's mother, Sheri Krula, said her family has been discussing the intersection's dangers in the wake of the accident. They will hold a candlelight vigil there for him tonight at 8.

“I didn't realize how dangerous that intersection can be until people started talking about it after Dylan's death,” she said. “We do think something should be done.”

Last year, Sarpy County officials asked the state about installing a traffic signal at 204th and Harrison Streets.

Commercial and housing development in the southwest part of the metro area has made Harrison Street busier. One elementary school is about a mile from the intersection, and a second elementary at 192nd Street and Giles Road opened last fall.

When people are stopped at the intersection, they can find it tough to turn or cross because traffic on 204th Street, which is also Highway 6, flies by. The speed limit is posted at 55 mph, but it's common for drivers to exceed that.

The highway, which is a gateway for some west Omahans to get to the Interstate or other parts of the city, was widened to four lanes in the last decade or so.

In October 2012, the Roads Department determined that the 204th and Harrison Streets intersection satisfied the need for a signal because of its traffic volume.

Average daily traffic volume along 204th Street at the intersection last year was about 17,900, according to the Roads Department. East-west traffic at the intersection was significantly less, with about 3,400 along the east leg and 400 along the west leg.

But the department said the traffic signal couldn't be installed until the 2015 construction season “due to scheduling and funding constraints.”

The project will cost $201,000 and is scheduled for fiscal year 2015, which begins in July and runs through June 2015, said Tim Weander, the Roads Department's district engineer for the Omaha area. It's being designed and will be scheduled to bid as soon as possible in the next fiscal year, he said.

Typically, a project needs three to five years to design, but because the project did not require acquisition of right of way, the timeline was shortened, Weander said.

Weander said the traffic signal could be activated in January 2015 — once the state's lengthy list of preparations and construction has concluded.

Still, officials and people who use the intersection say it's taking too long.

Sarpy County Board Chairman Jim Warren said it's frustrating to deal with the state's process for addressing bad intersections.

This is the second traffic fatality lately in the Gretna area. Last month, 15-year-old Nate Lafave died in a traffic accident at the intersection of 180th Street and Highway 370 in Sarpy County.

After that accident, Warren said he and County Engineer Dennis Wilson asked the Roads Department to look into installing lights at the intersection. But the state said it didn't warrant a signal.

Now, an intersection meets the requirements for a signal, yet its installation is delayed, in part for budgetary reasons, Warren said.

Warren said he wonders what needs to be done to prevent “another family suffering the loss of a son.”

“Is there no way money can be shuffled?” Warren asked. “If the project starts next budget year for them, that's months down the road before anything can be started.”

Tom McDonald, manager of engineering maintenance and construction for Douglas County, said it's hard to say if a signal would have prevented an accident like the fatal one earlier this week. Still, he said it was “a shame it wasn't put in before the accident” because the intersection meets the requirements.

State Sen. John Murante, who represents western Sarpy County, said the Roads Department should be mindful that Sarpy County is growing fast, and perhaps that means keeping better tabs on traffic numbers.

The roadways in his district are known to be clogged on fall Saturdays when the Huskers play in Lincoln.

Last week, the Nebraska Crossing Outlets debut caused a flood of drivers to travel on Highway 6, prompting the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office to send out extra vehicles and the Nebraska State Patrol to place message boards on nearby roadways.

“As quickly as we are developing, the safety of our roads needs to be studied almost on a continual basis, because the traffic patterns are going to vary substantially and increase even over the course of the year,” Murante said.

Christian Hornbaker, who lives in the Bellbrook subdivision near 204th and Harrison, has seen drivers who, in an effort to be safe, wait until no cars are in sight on 204th Street before they turn onto the highway. That makes drivers behind them impatient, and those are the ones who tend to gun it into oncoming highway traffic, he said.

With a new housing development going up across the street from his subdivision, Hornbaker said now is the time for the state to address the problem. Stopping at lights may be annoying for some drivers, but it's a small price to pay if it saves lives, he said.

“(The state doesn't) necessarily look at the real world, everyday happenings there,” he said. “Have somebody sit up there for a day and you'll see some of these people who wait 10, 15 minutes to take a left.

“It's just a really dangerous intersection.”

World-Herald staff writer Kevin Cole contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Emily Nohr    |   402-444-1192    |  

Emily covers Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield, as well as metro-area roads.

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