Archive for Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Opinions vary widely on turnpike interchange

February 20, 2002

While many people agree southern Leavenworth County needs a turnpike interchange, there's little consensus on where it should be constructed.

The debate centers mainly on: County Road 25 and County Road 1 or someplace in-between.

And then there's Sen. Ken Wilk, R-Lansing, a man with a plan a plan that would provide turnpike access without building a new interchange.

"I think that access may come in the form of a frontage road where the new exchange is," Wilk said.

The turnpike's new eastern toll plaza which opened in 2001, is at 182nd Street.

The cost of building new frontage roads would be less than the price tag for constructing a new interchange, he said.

"We have to be realistic given where the toll booth is at now," Wilk said. "They're not going to put another toll booth three or four miles down the road that's not going to happen."

But for those people who do believe a completely new interchange will happen albeit in the distant future that debate continues.

Straight shot

Ed Chapman, a Leavenworth attorney who serves on Leavenworth Area Development's Transportation Committee, says County Road 25, two miles east of Tonganoxie, would be the best access road.

"One reason I like 25 as it's a straight shot across the river to Johnson County," Chapman said.

He said a road from Kansas Highway 32 to Kansas Highway 10 would have to be built, as well as a bridge crossing the Kansas River.

But Gary Carlson, executive director of LAD, said County Road 1, which heads south from Tonganoxie, is the best choice.

"If you take everything into consideration, not the least of which is that I-70 belongs to the Kansas Turnpike Authority, and if this is the only place that they will agree to put an interchange, then let's not argue where the interchange goes," Carlson said.

John Zoellner the county's director of planning and zoning, has been instrumental in developing the county's comprehensive plan, a plan tailored to guide the county's growth and traffic patterns through the next 30 years.

"We really didn't designate where the interchange could be," Zoellner said. "It could be at County Road 1 or at County Road 25 or in between you just never know."

As far as connecting south to Kansas Highway 10, which connects southern Johnson County with Lawrence, Zoellner said he thought a highway could be built, away from an existing roadway, for that purpose.

"It would probably be a four-lane limited access road," he said.

Three to four years ago, KTA studied the feasibility of building an interchange at County Road 1.

"We left it in the city and the county's court," said Tom Wurdeman, chief engineer for KTA. "The county roads won't support an interchange. The problem is if we put an interchange in, you're going to have 80,000-pound semis and those roads are too light to carry them."

Like Carlson, Tonganoxie Mayor John Franiuk said he prefers County Road 1. Franiuk said there would be fewer landowners to deal with when obtaining right of way on County Road 1 than along County Road 25.

Further, he said that because much of the property near the turnpike is undeveloped, an interchange would encourage growth in that area.

Widen the roads

While the location of an interchange remains a question, one point is clear: The county must pay to upgrade any road before the Kansas Turnpike Authority would agree to construct an interchange.

Dave Mahoney, Leavenworth County's public works director, said improvements to the nine-mile stretch of County Road 1 from Tonganoxie to Eudora could cost as much as $13.5 million, and likely more.

"County Road 1 would have to be a total reconstruction," Mahoney said. "It's hilly and the road's not wide enough."

He estimated that engineering, right-of-way acquisition and construction costs could run about $1.5 million a mile.

Conversely, he estimated the cost at $500,000 a mile to improve County Road 25, which is wider.

The cost to upgrade the eight miles between U.S. 24-40 and Kansas Highway 32 and replacement of one bridge could fall in the $4.5 million range, he said. However, that road would not get traffic across the Kansas River.

Tickled to death

Mike Johnston, KTA president, said he is always interested in building new interchanges.

"The bottom line is we're tickled to death to look to increasing access to the turnpike everywhere," Johnston said, "so long as we can make some kind of economic case to do it."

Johnston said the turnpike is and must remain self-supporting.

"We don't get any state or federal tax dollars," Johnston said. "And our income comes directly and solely from our toll-payers, so we don't have the luxury of spending somebody else's money."

Wurdeman said he believes enough tolls would be collected at a County Road 1 interchange to pay for construction, maintenance and operation of the toll booth.

He said he recalled that the study showed construction costs for KTA could run from $5 million to $10 million.

"It's getting far enough down the road that we'd probably have to do another study," Wurdeman said. "It was a preliminary study, and it's been languishing three or four years."

Franiuk said the ball rests in the county commission's court.

"I don't think it's a dead issue at all," Franiuk said. "I think what stalls this is from Leavenworth County not being willing to prepare a road that's going to offer us this interchange. Until the county does this, I don't think it's going to move."

Leavenworth County Commissioner Don Navinsky said: "We're working toward it, but it's not going to be in the immediate future. We may decide in the next year or two to put this up for a bond election."

Ken Wilk, too, said the turnpike access is important.

"I think it's necessary for the long-term health of the county," Wilk said. "I just don't know when it's going to happen."

Wilk, who said utilizing the eastern toll plaza and building frontage roads would make more sense than building a new interchange, said funding for road improvements and ramps for that project likely would come from more than one entity.

"It's going to be a combination," Wilk said. "From the turnpike authority, of course there will be a local component and I think you're going to have a state component, as well."

The Kansas Turnpike Authority, as well as Leavenworth County, would benefit, he said.

"Quite frankly, I think it's in the long-term interest of the KTA," Wilk said. "I think they could pick up quite a lot of additional traffic."

Wilk didn't specify what he thought might be a likely time frame for gaining turnpike access.

"I certainly don't have a crystal ball to tell you when that would happen," he said.

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