Archive for Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Money will drive decisions on turnpike interchange

October 5, 2005

The Kansas Turnpike Authority remains interested in an interchange in southern Leavenworth County, but the degree of that interest hinges on how much money the interchange would make.

Whether the interchange makes money hinges on whether the Leavenworth County Commission agrees to improve County Road 1 north -- and south -- of the turnpike.

And whether the county agrees to improve the county road hinges on -- what else -- money.

It appears money to fund those improvements will fall short of preliminary estimates.

During a lunch meeting Tuesday in Topeka, county commissioners and turnpike officials had a frank discussion about the proposed turnpike interchange.

Both groups said they were surprised by an engineering firm's recent report that said improving County Road 1 -- between U.S. Highway 24-40 and Kansas Highway 32 -- would cost between $15 million and $20 million.

County commissioners asked Mike Johnston, president of the KTA, if it is possible to improve only the portion of County Road 1 north of the turnpike.

"If you don't make improvements south, you still have a road there that people can use," Johnston said.

But the road couldn't handle heavy trucks. And a feasibility study on the interchange showed that two-thirds of the tolls would be paid by traffic coming and going from the south, not the north, according to Tom Wurdeman, KTA chief engineer.

"That's a concern," Wurdeman said.

The county had planned to use a portion of the countywide one-cent sales tax to finance improvements to County Road 1.

"We figured we were only going to get about $25 million from the sales tax in 10 years," Commissioner Don Navinsky said. "We've got other roads in the county that every citizen will use."

While Navinksy said he didn't want to abandon the interchange project, he said he was concerned about financing other road projects, as well as federally mandated upgrades to the county's radio system.

"We're in a very tight box because of other commitments," Commissioner Clyde Graeber said.

No decisions were reached on Tuesday. But Johnston made it clear that the KTA is interested in making a sound business decision.

"I'm not deterred," he said, "but obviously we have to take a fresh look at it if your intentions are to make improvements to the north and not to he south."

He said the KTA would want an updated feasibility study. He estimated the study would cost $20,000 to $25,000, which he asked commissioners to commit to paying if the interchange isn't built.

"We'd love to build an interchange every square mile, if we could do it economically," Johnston said. "It's really a business decision. We don't have the luxury of spending money where we can't get it back. ... The ball's in your court. You tell us what you want us to consider."

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