This is a view of U.S. Highway 54 in New Mexico. The narrow two-lane interstate highway is considered one of the most deadliest roadways in the nation. Courtesy photo
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
U.S. Highway 54 runs approximately 1,200 miles from El Paso, Texas, to Griggsville, Ill., and a little more than 900 miles of the highway runs through the states of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
While many of those miles have been four-laned, efforts are still being made on the part of the Southwest Passage Initiative for Regional and Interstate Transportation group to extend the remainder of the road from Wichita to El Paso.
S.P.I.R.I.T. Executive Director Jack Taylor spoke to the Seward County Commission at its Feb. 7 meeting regarding updates to the project. He said although parts of U.S.-54 are already four-laned, his group needs to continue to work with the Department of Transportation to fill the gaps.
“Four lanes have already been built from El Paso north to Tularosa – 14 miles north of Alamogordo,” he said. The remainder of that road from Tularosa to I-40 has, basically, been made into a ‘Super Two,’ and the state has purchased the right of way for a future four lane when the money is available.”
In the state of Texas, 20 miles of highway are being improved to “Super Two” status with a two-mile passing lane through that stretch. Taylor said Oklahoma only lacks about 10 and a half miles on its part, and he said this should be finished within the next three years.
“When that portion in Oklahoma and Texas is done, we in Liberal will have 145 miles of four-lane highway and 20 miles of Super Two between us and Amarillo, taking more money to Texas and Amarillo rather than to Wichita and Kansas,” he said. “Some local doctors are already referring patients to specialists down there because it’s closer and it’s better highway.”
As for Kansas, four lanes of Hwy. 54 have been built from Wichita to just east of Kingman, a project which Taylor said was finished many years ago, and he said 10 miles near Cunningham should be done this year.
“We’re really working hard to get the funding and approval for more four lanes between here and there,” he said. “We need to fill up the gaps.”
Taylor met with several state legislators recently in Topeka, as well as Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Jerry Moran, Congressman Tim Huelskamp and Congressman Lynn Jenkins to discuss the needs of Highway 54, and more will be looked at in the near future.
“Max Zimmerman and I will be going to Washington, D.C. in early March for the fourth annual Transportation Convention on March 9, 10 and 11, walking the halls of the Senate and the House buildings on March 8, talking to senators and congressmen and also talking to the Department of Transportation while we’re there,” Taylor said.
Senator Roberts is also scheduled to be in Liberal from 3 to 4 p.m. next Wednesday at the Rock Island Depot, one of three stops, along with Garden City and Dodge City that day.
While in Washington, Taylor said he and Zimmerman will meet with Florida Congressman John Mica, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who is working to get a full six-year transportation bill passed this year.
“It’s a multi-billion dollar six-year plan that we haven’t had in the last nine years,” Taylor said. “They just kept extending the one we had over and over again.”
Taylor added SPIRIT will be co-hosts of this year’s convention, and this will provide plenty of publicity for the group.
“SPIRIT will be listed on all their literature, and there’ll be participants from all over the United States,” he said. “Not only will they hear the name and my voice talking about SPIRIT, they’ll also see it in brochures and on the banner.”