By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
There are 55 miles of U.S. Highway 54 between the stateline of Kansas and that of Texas, and within the next five years, motorists should be able to travel all of those miles – on four lanes.
Mike Shannon, president of the Southwest Passage Initiative for Regional and Interstate Transportation, said only 12 miles remain to be paved on Oklahoma’s stretch of Hwy. 54, and this has been accomplished through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and its director, Gary Ridley.
“They have managed well even in down times,” Shannon said. “They have kept the Highway 54 project on the eight-year plan. It should be done in the next two years in Oklahoma.”
SPIRIT Executive Director Jack Taylor said the Oklahoma portion will be finished in four years, and in 2011 and 2012, officials in Texas will widen a 20-mile stretch of U.S.-54 between Texhoma, Okla., and Stratford, Texas. This includes passing lanes.
“When that’s finished, you and I in Liberal will have 145 miles of four-lane and 20 miles of super two between us and Amarillo, Texas,” Taylor said.
The director is concerned, however, because of a shorter distance between Liberal and Amarillo than that of Liberal and Wichita and better highway conditions.
“More doctors will be sending their patients to specialists in Amarillo,” Taylor said. “People will be going to Amarillo for sporting events and entertainment. That revenue plus tax revenues go to Texas and Amarillo, not Wichita. We need to get 54 four-laned from here to Wichita as much for their economy as ours.”
Shannon said the SPIRIT organization as a whole is going well, but bad economics have played a factor in lower membership numbers.
“We’re struggling right now, and now’s the time not to struggle,” he said.
SPIRIT will host its annual conference Oct. 14 and 15 in Greensburg, and Taylor said the event will start with a reception on the evening of the 14th.
“That’ll be at the museum after we have our board meeting,” he said. There’ll be some musical entertainment. The next morning, we’ll start, and we’ll have welcomes. I’ll tell a little bit about SPIRIT.”
Taylor said next will be welcomes from Bob Dixon, the mayor of Greensburg, and the Kiowa County Commission chairman, as well as video welcomes from former Kansas Governor Bill Graves and Congressman Jerry Moran. Taylor said Moran will be congratulating SPIRIT on 15 years of promoting the four-laning of Hwy. 54.
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller will be the keynote speaker for the conference, which Taylor said will feature some panel discussions by representatives from the Departments of Transportation from the four states.
“We’ll have a speaker at noon to talk about the economic benefits of four-laning the highway,” he said.
The afternoon of Oct. 15 will feature a walking tour of rebuilt Greensburg.
“There’ll be transportation provided for those that can’t quite walk that far,” Taylor said.
The director gave an update of the SPIRIT project in the Land of Enchantment.
“New Mexico has all but six miles of their highway from I-70 at Santa Rosa to Tularosa, which is just north of Almagordo, widened and passing lanes,” he said. “I’ve been working with the state of New Mexico in trying to get a TIGER grant to do the final six miles.”
In Kansas itself, Taylor said a new comprehensive transportation plan has been passed, but unfortunately, there will not be as much money as area transportation officials would like to have to accomplish what needs to be done.
“We as a district in District 6 – which is 19 counties down here, including Garden, Dodge, Liberal, Ulysses, Sublette – have got to figure out what is best for the district with what little money we’re going to get for use in the district,” Taylor said.
Leaders in District 6 were scheduled to look at that today at an economic summit in Garden City. Taylor said KDOT has scheduled a local control meeting on Oct. 27 in Liberal.
“All of us in these 19 counties will gather here to tell what we’d like to have for the district to spend the money that’s been allocated to us as a district, not individually,” he said.