Improvements Maybe Years Away for Deadly Stretch of Highway

Tuesday, September 21st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A deadly highway in Green County is years, maybe even a decade, away from improvement. Another person was killed in an accident Tuesday morning on Highway 20. It was the seventh death on the highway this year, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Improvements are planned for the road, but as the News on Six has learned, the planning is far from over.

Driving along Highway 20 can test even a careful driver. In some places, the highway curves and goes over hills. It has no shoulder. 7,000 cars a day travel the stretch between Claremore and Collinsville, a section of highway frequented by accidents. "This road is an absolute deathtrap," said OHP Trooper Eddie Kirkland. "I think since January of this year, we've killed seven or eight people out here on about a five mile stretch of road. It is just unbelievably dangerous."

The section in question is just over seven miles long and is located east of Highway 169 and west of the Verdigris River. The highway has dozens of crossroads and several major intersections. "It's Highway 20 that's the problem," said Carl Smith, Limestone Fire Chief. "Just too much traffic for the size of the road and the way it's been constructed."

Last January, two people died in a collision just west of Claremore. In August, two others died at 145th East Avenue. And early Tuesday, a 73-year-old Collinsville man died when the car in which he was riding slammed into a trash truck. Authorities at the scene were frustrated because they so often respond to accidents along this road. The Department of Transportation says that one day, that curvy, hilly section of Highway 20 with no shoulders will be a divided, four-lane highway.

Even though it's been in the planning stage for more than five years, the department has no idea when it will be completed. "We backed up on State Highway 20 purposely because we wanted to look at it as a corridor," said project manager Jennifer Koscelny. "We looked at doing an alignment study which we undertook and which unfortunately did take time. But we wanted to make sure we put the right kind of facility in the right location, so hopefully that will pay off in the future," she explained.

But those years of planning have not resulted in one inch of new asphalt on the ground and no projection of when the highway project will be finished. While plans are still being made, authorities fear more people will die on the unforgiving stretch of highway.