- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

EMPORIA, Kan. (AP) - A 2-mile stretch of the Kansas Turnpike where seven people have died in flooding will soon offer better protection for drivers.

Workers are about halfway through a project to improve drainage on a stretch between 8 and 10 miles south of Emporia. Six people - including five members of a Glenaire, Missouri, family - died there in 2003 and another person drowned nearby last year. All the deaths were caused by vehicles getting caught in rising floodwaters.

The $2.7 million project between mile markers 116 and 118 will install massive box culverts that run beneath the highway, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/296niOj ). The goal is to keep rising water from flash flooding off the turnpike. Turnpike officials said Wednesday that beginning in November, the design should keep water off the road in a 100-year storm, which is a storm with a 1 percent of chance of happening in a year, said David Jacobson, the turnpike’s director of engineering.

“We’re not eliminating the chance of water on the roadway, but we’re decreasing the chance,” Jacobson said, adding that it wouldn’t be feasible to build a structure with more protection than a 100-year flood design.

At mile marker 116, the Robert Rogers family and Albert Larson, of Fort Worth, Texas, who tried to rescue them, died in 2003 when flooding on Jacob Creek sent a wall of floodwater across the turnpike. Workers at that site are removing a 7-by-7-foot box culvert beneath the highway and replacing it with two larger culverts, each 14-by-12-foot.

The design and work was affected by an effort to protect a small protected fish, Jacobson said. The culverts are imbedded a foot into the earth to allow for more water flow, helping fish migration.

At mile marker 118, 21-year-old Zachary Clark of Keller, Texas, died last summer when his vehicle ran into rising water on the highway, went into a flooded ditch and was sucked through the culvert beneath the turnpike that drains a tributary of Jacob Creek. Workers there are adding two 14-by-8-foot culverts to the existing 8-by-8-foot culvert.

Despite the improvements, drivers on the turnpike will still need to be cautious when weather conditions demand it, said Turnpike Authority spokeswoman Rachel Bell. The Turnpike Authority will spend $3 million to $5 million a year during the next decade to continue drainage improvements, she said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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