While unrelated to truck crashes, K-7 weight limit may be helping prevent them

Jonathan Riley
Morning Sun

CRAWFORD COUNTY, Kan. — 40-year-old Adrian Espinosa of Kansas City, Kansas was headed northbound on Highway K-7 just north of W. 700th Avenue last Monday afternoon, near Farlington, when he drifted off the roadway, over-corrected, and rolled the semi he was driving. He was transported to Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg for treatment of suspected serious injuries, according to the Kansas Highway Patrol. 

While there have been significantly fewer of them in 2021 than there had been at this time last year, semi crashes on the treacherous stretch of K-7 north of Girard, where the road has no shoulder, are not a new development. Rather they are a familiar source of frustration for county officials who have found themselves largely powerless to do anything to alleviate the problem. 

In early March, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced a 20-ton weight restriction on K-7 between K-47 and K-39 – which includes the dangerous stretch of highway north of Girard but, as Crawford County Sheriff Danny Smith noted at a Crawford County Commission meeting last week, was not implemented in response to the problem of repeated semi crashes on the road. The weight limit was instead put in place because of the condition of the asphalt on the road within Girard’s city limits. 

Smith also said that signage set up by KDOT to inform drivers of the weight restriction has been less than ideal. 

“They’ve got a kind of unorthodox – it's really not a closing of the road, it’s basically just an advisement that there’s a 20-ton limit, but it’s only for that section and it gives no detours, no alternate routes, there’s nothing for the semis to, you know, do anything,” he said. 

Indirectly, however, KDOT implementing the weight limit on K-7 may be contributing to a decreased number of semi crashes on the road this year. Although a Girard man, Gregory Puffinbarger, died in a collision with a semi last month on the section of highway in question, at this time last year it had seen nine crashes involving semis, Smith said. 

“Because there’s a weight limit, it’s showing some red I guess on the GPS, so that is probably, subsequently we’re getting less traffic, because they are taking different routes because they’re seeing that on their GPS,” he said. 

With improvements to K-7 to widen the road still a long way off, county officials have previously brought up the idea of trying to get the makers of popular GPS navigation apps to include a warning about the highway. When the county commission was discussing this same issue a year ago, a Google spokesperson said that the company’s Google Maps app is not tailored for use by semi-truck drivers. 

In discussing the problem last week, Smith acknowledged that there could also be other factors contributing to decrease in semi wrecks this year. Commissioner Bruce Blair said it was likely that some of the trucking companies that have had vehicles involved in crashes on K-7 have warned their drivers about the road. 

Smith and Blair both said that completion of the US-69 highway expansion project will also probably contribute significantly to reducing the number of crashes on K-7.