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Local leaders join regional contingency to promote better highways PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 March 2018 11:29


• Leader & Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of stories recapping Wednesday’s joint meeting of the Seward County Commission, the Liberal City Commission, USD 480 Board of Education and the Seward County Community College Board of Trustees.

Today’s story will be an update on four-laning U.S. Highway 54.

Future stories will look at an update on the SCCC Champion Center and an update on the state of Liberal’s airport.

Community leaders from Liberal and Seward County are scheduled to join leaders from Ford County, Finney County, Garden City and Dodge City Wednesday in Topeka to testify before the Kansas Legislature’s transportation committee.

That testimony will be in regards to highways in Southwest Kansas. At Feb. 28’s joint meeting between the Seward County Commission, Liberal City Commission, USD 480 Board of Education and the Seward County Community College Board of Trustees, officials with some of those entities talked about presenting a united front to state lawmakers that would include leaders from Southwest Kansas’ three largest communities.

Seward County Administrator April Warden said she, Interim City Manager Calvin Burke and Liberal Chamber of Commerce Director Rozelle Webb had met with 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis prior to the February joint meeting, and Warden said her meeting with the local legislator seemed to have the same call for the united front.

“Shannon was able to provide us a list of projects that were delayed, whether they be modernization projects to reconstruct existing roadways, widen shoulders, flatten hills, straighten curves, etc., or if they were projects to address capacity issues such as adding lanes or new interchanges,” she said. “Those projects add up to $552,737,715. Those were the projects that KDOT delayed.”

Warden said Francis felt most likely, only $100 million of the money from the Kansas Department of Transportation will be funded for projects this year.

“He is reaching out to us as our representative to say it would be in our best interest, he feels, to get together with Garden, Dodge and Liberal, start having conversations with them, Finney, Ford, Seward, the chambers from all those entities and to start doing it quickly,” Warden said. “Some of these people are starting to get presentations before the transportation committee, and he feels like those who come with a coordinated front are going to be the ones who are going to be fresh on the minds and hopefully won’t get eliminated from this list.”

At the February joint meeting, Warden said because the hearing would be scheduled for March, local and area leaders have a tight schedule to get their message out.

“We really need to be reaching out, and if we can make people available to go to Topeka and testify and if we can show that we’re working with Garden, Dodge and Liberal, we’re all working together, he thinks that we’re going to have a better shot at least getting some of this,” she said.

Warden added Francis thought it would be best to have a list of priorities in regards to Hwy. 54.

“It would be good to have some numbers of accidents that have resulted on Highway 54, but also talk about the economic development aspects of what expanding our Highway 54 projects could do for us,” Warden said.

The administrator then reviewed what it would take to get even just a small stretch of highway four laned.

“Obviously, we all want a four-lane highway,” she said. “It does $4 to $5 million for them to build a mile of four-lane highway. If we would consider them doing a super two or having more extended passing lanes, it takes about $1 million a mile to do that.”

Warden then asked those on hand what they would like to see happen with the Highway 54 project.

“Do we want to try to get something over nothing, or do we want to continue to push for just for the four lane, or do we want to allow ourselves to consider possibly getting some of the super two or the more extended passing lanes along the way?” she said. 

Burke said a task force would be assigned to look at the Highway 54 case, and Wednesday’s testimony would be just the start of what local and area leaders will need to do to make their case.

“This task force will be able to go to Topeka and kind of present our case, but then the task force will come out,” he said. “We’ll really have to show them the bad spots and really sell it and probably have to go to Topeka a third time to really pull this off.”

Liberal City Commissioner Jack Carlile said going with one of the options Warden outlined is off the board for him.

“There’s areas along 54 that’s not a super two yet, but Seward County is a super two,” he said.

Liberal Vice Mayor Taylor Harden said going with the super two project will most likely work the best, though.

“If we go after the four, there’s a much larger probability we won’t get any expansion, whereas if we go after the super two, there may be a much larger possibility that we could at least secure that, which would still lead to better traffic flow on the highway,” he said.

Seward County Commissioner C.J. Wettstein said though he would like four lanes, he too believes other options would work better at this time.

“I still would really like to see the push for the four lane, but I do also understand the cost of it,” he said. “If they gave us the three lane with the continuous passing lane, maybe we ought to look at it. I don’t like that, but the dynamics that we have right now to work with, that may be the best we’re going to get.”

Warden then talked about the influence the late Jack Taylor had in both Topeka and Washington as head of the Southwest Passage Initiative for Rural and Interstate Transportation (SPIRIT). She said with Taylor now gone, other leaders in Southwest Kansas now need to step up to the plate.

“We may have not seen a lot happen in Jack’s time, but I can tell you when we traveled to Topeka and when we traveled to Washington, they knew who he was,” she said. “Right now, SPIRIT is not active, and somebody’s going to have to pick that up and carry that torch.”

Carlile agreed with Warden, saying the sooner something is done, the better off the region will be transportation wise.

“The faster you make 54 Highway, the more traffic you’re going to find on it,” he said. “Snowbirds don’t like it. A lot of them do take it. A lot of them swing down south of Wichita and go to Oklahoma City and across.”

Burke said getting officials from all three of Southwest Kansas’ biggest counties and cities working together is what is best for Hwy. 54.

“If we combine, we’ve got a lot more pull in Topeka to make it happen if Southwest Kansas is completely in agreement on what we want to do,” he said. “The more political pull we have in Topeka, the better off we’ll be to get at least part of what we want.”

Seward County Commissioner Ada Linenbroker said previous talks have had leaders in agreement to bring four lanes to Mullinville, but the agreement stopped there.

“That’s where we have a separation,” she said. “If we could all go as a group and agree that’s where we want it to come to, then later talk about what we want out here, we have a better chance of getting it. If we get the four lane to there, we’re huge steps ahead of where we are right now.”

Warden agreed with Burke, saying the more Southwest Kansas brings to the table and works together, the more likely it is that improvements will be made in area transportation.

“If we show a united front with Garden, Dodge, Finney, Ford and us, it also helps them with other projects in the future, but it’s showing in Topeka that we can work together for the benefit of each other and not that we are just looking out for our individuals ourselves,” she said.

Linenbroker said though a four-laning project may not be in the works now, leaders should not give up on the idea completely.

“I think we need to go with the four lane to Mullinville, and by the time they get that done, they may have more money in the budget, and maybe they can extend the four lane out, if not the three,” she said. 




About The High Plains Daily Leader

The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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