Grassroots efforts prompt improvements to rural Missouri highways

Friday, May 2, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, May 5, 2014

ST. LOUIS — In 2009, Randy Frump and Shannon Follwell each lost a child on a rural highway in St. Charles County.

Frump's son Bryan, 26, died in a crash on Highway D near Defiance on New Year's Day. Follwell's daughter, Brianna Carron, 16, died exactly three months later, in another crash on D.

When another 16-year-old girl, Elise Sunderhuse, was killed in a crash on Highway DD over Labor Day weekend, some neighbors, including Peggy Brazil, decided to do something. They asked Frump and Follwell if they wanted to join them.

They formed a group called Shoulders fOr Safety, or SOS.

They organized a town hall meeting and got petitions signed. Members went to Jefferson City multiple times and sought out local legislators to ask for their guidance and help. They met with the Missouri Department of Transportation and made presentations twice in front of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

In the meantime, more people were killed on the highway corridor, which includes the routes to and from the area's wineries and popular starting points for the Katy Trail. In a little more than a year, 12 people were killed along highways D, DD, Z and 94.

"It was an absolute heart-wrenching painful year, and there wasn't any time to heal because there was another death every time you turned around," said Brazil.

Maybe because of the numbers or the personal element Frump and Follwell contributed, people listened and worked together.

Fred Weber construction donated some of the materials. St. Charles County officials agreed to chip in up to $400,000, even though they didn't have to because the roads are maintained by the state.

"It was the right thing to do," said County Councilman Joe Brazil, who is Peggy's brother-in-law.

Tom Evers, MoDOT's St. Charles County area engineer, said the contributions made a difference.

"If there's a safety problem, we do try to address that, but when you get money from another source, that helps to accelerate that project," he said.

In less than a year, MoDOT announced it would repave and add 3-foot-wide shoulders to about 15 miles of the two-lane highways to help prevent accidents. The projects near Defiance cost $5 million.

Last month Frump and Follwell attended a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the work.

Follwell had pledged at her daughter's funeral to get shoulders on the roads. Frump said the work had been cathartic for him.

Their success got the attention of another grieving parent.

Shawn Archambault of Eureka said he is trying to cope with the death of his daughter, Kaela, 20, who was killed in a crash Nov. 18, 2010, on Highway FF in Jefferson County. The two-lane road has 19 curves and no shoulders in some stretches.

Within 10 months of Kaela's death, three other people died in crashes on FF and nearby Highway W.

Archambault formed a group, One Curve At A Time, and is trying to get areas of highways FF, F and W straightened, as well as get shoulders and warning signs added.

He and several members of his group met with SOS to get advice on how to proceed. His group also met with MoDOT officials, who he said are working on a plan.

It is his way of honoring his daughter, he said.

"She was a beautiful woman, but she was more beautiful inside," he said. "She would have made a dent in this world, no doubt."

Another person who has noticed is Crissy Holmes of O'Fallon, Mo. She hasn't lost a child in a crash, but her daughter just turned 16 last week. She lives in the Wentzville School District and travels Highway N regularly.

Another fatal crash occurred there in August and within a five-day period three other crashes happened. Holmes has started a petition drive and has lobbied MoDOT and the school district for help.

She met with SOS and then started a group. She's calling it SOS — Phase II.

As for Follwell and Frump and SOS, they are still working to get other roads in their area improved. Highway DD still has 3.6 miles that need shoulders. And they'd like to see improvements to Highway D all the way to New Melle.

"It's helped my grieving process to be involved in this," Frump said.

And the effort to make roads safer is spreading.

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Ellis Smith May 2, 2014 | 11:07 a.m.

Glad to learn this, because this is a serious problem, and not just in Missouri. Lack of sufficient shoulders, or pretty much lack of ANY useful shoulders, is a serious hazard, not just to drivers but also to any vehicle which may be stopped off the pavement along the highway but partly still sitting on the pavement.

Further, this problem is NOT strictly confined to lettered routes (in Missouri): it also exists on some numbered state highways.

It even still exists on at least one FEDERAL highway: US 63, between the junction with US 50 and MO 42. In addition to portions of that highway having serious curves (some blind to oncoming traffic) and hills, this highway was widened years ago at the expense of there being any real shoulders. (The original highway was built in 1925.)

Most "shoulderless" highways are marked for lower speeds (like everyone is going to pay attention to THAT!), but even at those speeds we need to understand that if a driver loses control and exits the pavement, he/she will immediately be in the ditch.

Not so long ago, and reported in the Missourian, some international graduate students from Missouri S&T died in a crash on MO 42. Weather conditions were perfect, it was daytime, and given the students' religion I seriously doubt that alcohol or drugs were a cause. They were simply going too fast on a really bad highway.

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