Nearly 500 crashes prompt safety changes on U.S. Highway 54

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JEFFERSON CITY — A 100-mile stretch of U.S Highway 54 from Mexico to Camdenton will undergo safety changes after a MoDOT audit of the area, which saw nearly 500 crashes in the past five years. 

Three types of accidents were identified in the audit: wrong way, curve and cross-median.

MoDOT Central District Engineer David Silvester said putting up additional road signs would help prevent more wrong-way crashes. 

"We're talking about 'Do Not Enter' and 'Wrong Way' signs. We're going to look to put these up with our own forces, and we're going to put them at intersections, at interchanges, and on shoulders," Silvester said. 

Even though nine of 10 wrong-way crashes, causing 11 fatalities, were a result of impaired drivers, Silvester said additional signs could be useful.

"I believe that anything we do to stop any driver that may not be under impairment, or perhaps the person that is under impairment that this might actually get some of their attention," Silvester said. 

Sgt. Scott White of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said it is difficult to control how people drive, even with  warning signs. 

"We cannot engineer driver inattention, speeding, or driving too fast for the road conditions out of every curve, ramp, or long stretch of highway," White said. 

He said it is ultimately up to drivers to stay safe on the roads.

"Simply put: we need the driver's help. The only 100 percent survivable traffic crash is the one that never happens," White said. 

The audit's proposed solution for crashes along curves is to add more signs ahead of sharp curves as well as add high-friction surface treatment to seven high-risk curves. 

Silvester said high-friction surface treatment on several other Missouri roads has reduced out-of-control crashes by 90 percent. 

For cross-median crashes, the audit proposes installing guard cables in separate areas on U.S. Highway 54.

"We identified the guard-cable areas along the corridor, and because of the expanse and expense of guard cables, we're going to divide this up into three areas," Silvester said. 

The three areas include: from Jefferson City to Kingdom City, from Osage Beach to Camdenton and from Jefferson City to Osage Beach.

Silvester said guard cables cost $125,000 per mile, but he was not sure exactly how much the state would need in order to install the cables on the three stretches that were identified as problematic.

The timeline for when these changes will start being implemented depends on whether or not MoDOT determines it can fund the work itself or if it needs to hire a contractor to help with the work. 

[Editor's note: the stretch of road has been changed from "Jefferson City to Camdenton" to "Mexico to Camdenton"]