By L&T Managiing Editor Larry Phillips
The Chamber of Commerce proudly notifies those travelling through the downtown area that Liberal is the “Crossroads of Commerce,” a slogan I agree with completely due to our location from the borders of five states.
However, there is one problem Southwest Kansas has, and it can be attributed directly to the state legislators in Topeka, the Kansas Department of Transportation Secrertary and the governor himself.
That problem is that Liberal is also located at the “Crossroads of Death.”
Two young women have died within 13 days because of unsafe two-lane highways in and out of Liberal.
These women had their whole lives ahead of them. One was 19, the other 22.
They both died when vehicles driving toward them veered left of the center line and collided head-on with their cars.
It’s sad that Topeka’s legislators, the KDOT secretary and Gov. Sam Brownback only see these women as names and statistics.
I will tell you gentlemen and ladies in Topeka that these women had names. They had families. They had friends, neighbors, co-workers.
Victoria Alina “Vicki” Varela, 19, died July 14, 2014, when she was going home after having dinner with friends in Liberal. She lived in Plains – a short 25-minute drive northeast of Liberal on U.S. Highway 54.
Unfortunately, she never made it home. A man from out of state hit her head-on and killed her.
Nayeli Gonzalez De La Cruz, 22, died Saturday, July 26, 2014, when her car was hit head-on just north of Liberal by a local woman who also left her lane to crash into Gonzalez on U.S. Highway 83 – another two-lane killer roadway.
Gonzales left behing her husband of just a few years and a 2-year-old son who was with her in the horrible crash. Though he was not injured physically, what do you think this poor child feels in his young heart – seeing what he saw?
Varela left behind her parents, a brother and two sisters. How do you think they are dealing with the terrible loss of such a young, vibrant daughter and sister just starting out in life?
The politicians, cabinent secretaries and governors who have been promissing us residents in Southwest Kansas that Hwy. 54 will be four-laned have been lying to us, seemingly, forever.
I remember us reporting the promise Brownback and then-KDOT Secretary Deb Miller made in an announcement from Dodge City in 2011 – that KDOT would four-lane Hwy. 54 from Liberal to 10 miles northeast of town in 2014.
Only the liars know the whole truth, they won’t be forthright with us out here.
What happened, officially, was after Miller resigned, the governor made assistant secretary Jerry Younger acting secretary and Younger issued a statement saying he had postponed the Hwy. 54 four-lane project to 2018 and shortened it to 9.25 miles out from Liberal.
Then Brownback appointed Mike King as KDOT Secretary, and several of our local officials go to Topeka and start asking hard questions about these continous delays out here.
King then turned around and said he’s moved the project up to 2016, and it will be 10.25 miles and will include a new river bridge.
Who are we supposed to believe?
Will King actually do it, or is that what Brownback told him to tell us.
As a conservative, I support many things Brownback has done, but if he will lie about Hwy. 54, what else is he lying about.
Some say it’s Younger’s fault, and he is the one who short-changed us. I’ll tell you this, nothing those cabinent secretaries do is without the approval – whether it’s just a nod and a wink – of the governor.
Those legislators, KDOT supervisors and others with no vested interest in the people these two-lane roads slaughter year-after-year should remember we are humans, too. We’re tired of your double-talk, your lies and your false promises.
I dare you to come out here and talk to these grieving families. Go to their Rosaries, their funerals. Talk to their friends.
If you can’t put a human face on such victims, you shouldn’t be in the jobs you’re in now.
It’s beyond shameful.