A Junction City woman has launched an online petition to get 10,000 signatures to seek federal and state funding to widen US-75 highway north of Holton to four lanes.
Janie Murk, a Sabetha native, said she knows the Ukele family, who lost Carmen K. Ukele, 42, Marlee G. Ukele, 11, and Stephen M. Ukele, 62, all of Sabetha, in a Nov. 25 head-on crash on US-75 after Carmen Ukele’s sons played in the 3A state football championship in Hutchinson in which the Sabetha Bluejays bested Marysville.
“I really just started this for awareness,” Murk said. “That (crash) really touched me, and I just thought I had to do something.”
Murk started the petition Dec. 1, and within 24 hours, it had more than 5,000 signatures. Just 72 hours later, it had collected 7,500 signatures. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition on www.change.org had garnered more than 8,500 signatures.
“I had no idea it would blow up like this,” she said. “I’ve had lots of strangers and friends reaching out on Facebook, thanking me for starting it. Lots of people want to get involved, so that’s good.”
Murk, a 1996 Sabetha High School graduate, said remembering a smiling Carmen Ukele and knowing her family played a part in spurring her to start the petition, which she hopes to send to Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas transportation officials, state and federal politicians, and others.
Another motivating factor, she said, was that she traveled US-75 with her husband for her family’s Thanksgiving celebration earlier on Nov. 25 and witnessed a near head-on collision between Holton and the Sac & Fox Casino near Powhattan.
Other people submitting their signatures have told Murk that they, too, have witnessed similar incidents or know people who have died in or come close to being involved in a head-on crash on the section of highway north of Holton.
“They’ve said something has to be done,” she said. “The more the decsion-makers know about it, the better chance we have in making something happen. There’s been way too many accidents and way too many fatalities.”
The Nov. 25 crash occurred about a half-mile north of US-75’s intersection with 318th Road in northern Jackson County, about 12 miles north of Holton.
Carmen Ukele was driving a northbound 2008 Town & Country minivan in which Stephen, Marlee and Lee Ukele were passengers, according to the highway patrol’s crash report. The report indicated the crash occurred as Maria Perez-Marquez, 48, of Omaha, Neb., driving a southbound 2008 Equinox SUV, tried to pass another southbound vehicle.
Perez-Marquez and Carmen Ukele both tried to avoid colliding by swerving toward the east shoulder, where they collided, the report said.
“At what point will our state officials know that one life is one too many to lose?” Murk said. “No life is worth losing because the state doesn’t have money.”
Nicole Randall, spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Transportation, said KDOT is aware of the issues plaguing the two-lane highway north of Holton.
“There have not been discussions to this point about widening that stretch of road to four lanes specifically,” she said via email. “However, KDOT is looking at that area and is considering whether an action, and what action, would be appropriate.”
Randall said any funding for improvements to US-75 would be mix of federal and state funding if a project becomes a reality in the future.
“The determination of what type of funding and the amount used on a project has many variables,” she said. “One constant is that even if federal funding is used state funding would have to be a part of the project as there is a non-federal match requirement with federal funds.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.