ABOVE: Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller answers questions from the crowd during KDOT’s T-Works meeting Wednesday. RIGHT: Director of S.P.I.R.I.T. Jack Taylor asks questions regarding the four-laning of U.S. Highway 54 as Max Zimmerman and county commissioner Toby Hale look on. Daily Leader photos/Jessica Crawford
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller, along with KDOT officials were on hand Wednesday to listen to ideas regarding Southwest Kansas road improvements. Those present clearly preferred four-laning to passing lanes, even if miles affected are less.
Currently, there is $100 million to $150 million available for improvements in Southwest Kansas. Miller said she understands the priorities of the area. She was happy to learn of the Southwest Kansas Coalition – the joining of Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal to make decisions for the region. However, she said, not all involved Wednesday agreed with them.
“There is a lot of commonality in Southwest Kansas because the priorities all revolve around U.S. 50, 83 and 54,” she said. “That is commonly agreed to and a sense that trucks are the biggest issue.
“What I learned this morning that I wasn’t aware of is that the three main cities have come together, and they have sort of put together a common recommendation,” she said. “I have heard others in the group that don’t agree with those decisions. That clearly represents common ground being forged by some of the main players in Southwest Kansas, but I don’t think it would be fair to say everybody’s adopted it. Of course, what is totally common from every one of these meetings that we have is that with more money, everybody could agree. But what really makes it difficult is to try to live inside the budget, and it is hard for us, too.”
Miller said deciding between four-lanes and passing lanes is a “tough call.”
“I heard a gentleman in a group say, ‘I am concerned about agreeing to passing lanes. I think today it’s probably the best solution, but I think if we agree to them now, we will never get four lanes,’” she said. “I appreciate the concern, it is a tough call. So, what you do want to do is kind of come up with the best solution you can for the foreseeable future but not foreclose important options for the future.”
Miller was pleased to hear so much support from those present Wednesday regarding the four-laning of U.S. Highway 54 from Mullinville to Kingman. However, ultimately, those present decided it may not be a good idea to take money from the Southwest Kansas district and move it to the South Central district in order to accomplish the improvement.
“The group I just came from, their highest priority is Mullinville to Kingman,” she said. “I appreciate it, too, because one of the things we have really tried to get people to think about is that sometimes an important improvement for your community may lay outside your own boundaries, but it doesn’t mean that it is not advantageous to you to have those improvements made, and it is really wonderful from my perspective to see people recognizing that importance. I think they are right, an improvement on 54 makes an improvement all the way out to Liberal.”
Ultimately, after break-out sessions were conducted and opinions of each group tabulated, the following recommendations were made by the Southwest Kansas region:
o Construct a four-lane expressway from Cimarron to the Gray-Ford County line;
o Construct a four-lane expressway from the Gray-Ford County line to Dodge City; and
o Construct a four-lane expressway from Liberal to Shamrock.
Although the region made its opinion clear, those representing KDOT reminded the audience repeatedly that what happened Wednesday was simply a “listening session.” More research and more meetings may be needed to make more concrete decisions regarding what improvements Southwest Kansas may see over the next 10 years.