Drivers blame traffic lights for high crash rate on 71 Highway

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Drivers blame three traffic light intersections for the high crash rate on a two-mile stretch of U.S. 71 Highway.

Police responded to nearly 200 crashes in 2011 at the intersections at 55th Street, 59th Street and Gregory Boulevard.

"It creates a chaos," driver Vick Newson said. "There's just a lot of people that think of it as a highway, and they just fly up and down the road."

Leaving traffic lights in the middle of a major highway was a decision made nearly 30 years ago.

"It was part of a court order when we were doing the original design,"  MoDOT District Engineer Dan Niec explained.

In 1985, residents that lived in that area filed a lawsuit to keep the intersections because they felt a freeway would divide the community. 

"It was trying to encourage the economic development of the area as well," Niec said.

Judging from the boarded-up buildings and grass infested parking lots, it appears that plan backfired.

Still, MoDOT has made adjustments to the highway in attempt to keep drivers safe. The speed limit was lowered, red-light cameras were installed and additional signs were put up, Niec said.

"We're getting to the point where these intersections are at capacity, and at some point in the future we will have to upgrade them," he said.

Drivers say they would much rather have an overpass instead of having to come to a sudden stop when the light turns red. 

Niec said any major changes would require a collaborative effort between the community and city leaders to develop a plan and find sufficient funding.

For the past several years, the state has focused on bringing U.S. 71 up to interstate standards. This December, the stretch of highway from Joplin, Mo., to south of I-435 will change to I-49. 

If the three stoplights were removed, traffic would be able to move freely from Joplin to Canada.

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