MoDOT to explore safety options for US 54

Highway corridor to be reviewed in Mid-Missouri from Camdenton to Mexico

Sgt. Paul Kempke holds a tape measure in place as he and Sgt. Paul Meyers investigate the scene of a motor vehicle crash in which two people were killed Tuesday, July 12, 2016 on U.S. 54 in Holts Summit.

After the death of two local teenagers last week, Missouri Department of Transportation officials are evaluating the potential for safety improvements in the area where the wreck occurred.

Caleb H. McClain, 16, of Jefferson City - who was driving - and Karlie D. Jones, 15, of Holts Summit, were killed Tuesday when their westbound car crossed the median of U.S. 54 and collided with an eastbound tractor-trailer.

The accident happened on the "Mel Ray" curve just north of the South Summit Drive interchange between Jefferson City and Holts Summit, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Elizabeth Nilges, owner of Studio 54, located near that area in Holts Summit, said there is a safety problem there and wants to see change, not just talk.

"It seems like these things happen, and then it's over with," she said. "I completely avoid that curve and take the Holts Summit exit. I know it's extreme. I had an engine, hubcap and the hood of the car in my front yard, in my place of business."

"Where the truck landed, there was a cross right in front of the truck from a memorial in another accident," Nilges said. "I think it was from when two 16-year-old boys wrecked. One boy on one side of the road and the other on another side. If there was a barrier, yes, they would have been hurt, but I don't think it would have been a fatality."

MoDOT officials say they are looking at the section of highway.

"We are reviewing this area to determine if improvements can be made," said MoDOT Central District Engineer David Sylvester. "We need to make sure we identify the right solution or combination of solutions to make this area safer, if warranted. Options could include guard cable, guard rail, pavement treatments, signage, blinking lights and speed-limit reduction or perhaps some combination of these items."

"Guard cable in Missouri prevents vehicles from crossing the median about 95 percent of the time," Sylvester said. "We estimate that 45 to 50 lives are saved each year as a result of guard cable. Guard cable costs vary by location, but a general estimate is about $125,000 per mile. It costs about $12,000 per mile per year to maintain our guard cable.

"Factors considered when installing guard cable include, but are not limited to, traffic volumes, the number of cross-median crashes, and the severity of those crashes."

Sylvester added in response to some earlier wrong-way driving accidents on U.S. 54 in Miller County, MoDOT recently commissioned a review of the U.S. 54 corridor from Camdenton to Jefferson City.

"In light of this recent crash, we will extend that review to include 54 from Jefferson City to Mexico, and that safety audit will now include the 'Mel Ray' curve," he said. "We'll also be performing an analysis of the specific location following this recent crash."

Meanwhile, memorial services are planned this weekend for the teens.

Officials with Jefferson City Public Schools, where McClain and Jones were students, brought in grief counselors to help students deal with the sudden deaths of their classmates.

"Caleb was the center for our snare drum line," said Brett Myers, Jefferson City High School Jay Band director. "He was reliable. Our kids knew Karlie, too, and thought a lot of her. It's just been a hard time for all of us."