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Safety corridor to save more lives

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POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY, Okla. — State officials are hoping to crack down on highway tragedies in Pottawatomie County by setting up a safety corridor.

Two years ago in that county, there were 23 fatalities and 1,143 total crashes; far too many for the state to ignore.

David Glabas, Highway Safety Engineer with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the Shawnee-Tecumseh area has been dangerous because of the volume of traffic and the severity of crashes, often caused by impaired driving.

A five-year study led to Tuesday’s corridor announcement, which is welcomed by two people whose lives were forever changed by drunk driving.

Joyce McIntyre and Seth McDonnell share the kind of pain that time does not heal.

Both of their sisters were killed by drunk drivers in Pottawatomie County.

“Even though it’s been 40 years, I’ll never forget,” McIntyre said.

The crash scene is still vivid for McDonnell, 14 years later.

“I see that every day,” he said. “Every night before I go to sleep and every day when you drive by an accident, I relive it every day.”

“We are causing our own insurance rates to go up,” Shawnee Police Department’s Chris Thomas said. “We are causing ourselves to be injured and die on our public roadways.”

Thomas said Pottawatomie County’s safety corridor project stretches along I-40 near Shawnee and will include portions of Highways 102, 18 and 270 down to Tecumseh.

Huge “zero tolerance” signs, along with a bigger police presence, have cut down on fatality crashes and traffic violations in other states.

Officials hope it will also work here.

Officers said the worst part of their job is delivering this message to residents.

“Someone they love has been killed in a traffic accident and we hope this corridor project will cut down on the number of times that we have to make that visit.”

“We’re not out here to cause people grief,” OHP Lt. Brandon Schneider said. “We’re out here to save people’s lives.”

“Hopefully it will stop other people from losing family members or killing someone else’s family member,” McDonnell said of the safety corridor project.

“I will be forever grateful,” McIntyre said of the corridor’s creation. “If we can save one person, it will definitely be worth all the efforts.”

The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office and ODOT officials said Payne and Cherokee counties will have safety corridors of their own.

From speeding to seat belt violations and drunk driving, officers will be watching for all violations.