Rebuilding America: Stafford County roundabout completed by essential workers

Gale Rose
A semi truck moves through a new roundabout, completed May 21, at the intersection of U.S. 50 and U.S. 281 in Stafford County, three miles south of St. John. Photo by Gale Rose]

The coronavirus pandemic has not stopped travel on U.S. Highways 281 and 50, but the safety factor of those crossing that infamous intersection near St. John, Kansas has increased. A new $5.2 million roundabout where those highways intersect in Stafford County three miles south of St. John has been completed. After months of work starting in 2019, traffic is flowing smoothly through what had become a controversial project for some.

The new roundabout features an inner circle for regular traffic and a permanent detour outer diamond shape to accommodate oversize loads, said Scott Mullen, Kansas Department of Transportation area engineer.

The roundabout and diamond are designed to prevent the most severe accidents including t-bones and collisions at high speeds. Any collision at the intersection should be under 30 mph, Mullen said.

Tim Potter, KDOT public affairs manager, said roundabouts are used at intersections that have a significant history of crashes and where KDOT has taken steps to mitigate crashes but those efforts were not successful.

In this case, the intersection has a history of injury accidents, fatal accidents and damage to property accidents.

“There is a significant crash history over the years,” Potter said.

With the roundabout, any crash would be a glancing blow or sideswipe as opposed to a t-bone or angle crash and at a lower speed.

A roundabout allows traffic to continue moving unless a driver has to yield to other drivers already in the roundabout. All drivers have to reduce speed to enter the roundabout.

Prior to the roundabout, traffic on U.S. 281 was required to stop both north and southbound but traffic in U.S. 50 had no stop signs and no decrease in speed limit.

There were several warnings in place for U.S. 281 drivers including rumble strips and multiple signs, some with lights, warning drivers to stop, check again and that U.S. 50 did not stop. Even with these signs and rumble strips, drivers on U.S. 281 would still pull into the intersection and not realize that traffic in U.S. 50 did not have to stop.

Those signs are gone now and are replaced with a new speed limit sign and traffic flow signs. Traffic enters the roundabout and turns to the right. Entering drivers have to yield to traffic already in the roundabout.

Building just a roundabout would have handled regular car, pickup and semi truck traffic. But much oversize load truck traffic uses the intersection, especially wind farm trucks with tower sections and turbine blades. There is not enough room for loads that long to get through a roundabout so the permanent diamond was necessary to accommodate those loads, Mullen said.

Venture Corporation of Great Bend was the primary contractor for the project and there were 10 subcontractors.

Work continued on this highway project throughout the pandemic as essential workers put in their time for the public good.

One might hope that future travelers will be thankful for the sacrifices made by those workers. One life saved from a tragic accident is worth all the investment of state and federal funds, as well as time and labor.