Rural residents hope county abandons KTA interchange
Long before the Kansas Turnpike linked Lawrence and Bonner Springs, farmers started working acres of land along the rolling hills between the two cities.
Among those farmers were members of the Bernhardt family, who for more than 100 years have kept the family name attached to a 320-acre tract of land northwest of County Road 1 and the turnpike.
Now, Jan Bernhardt and her son live on property her father, George, and grandfather, Frederick, once farmed. And she wants to keep it the way it is -- as rural land.
Barnhardt and neighbor Lindsey Blancarte, who lives just north of Barnhardt on Woodend Road, are spearheading a group of rural property owners who don't want an interchange on the turnpike.
They want the Leavenworth County Commission to preserve the agricultural landscape and forget about the turnpike.
Acting on a request from the county, the Kansas Turnpike Authority plans to fund and build an interchange near County Road 1 and the turnpike -- where Bernhardt's land is situated. In an agreement with KTA, the county is responsible for funding a connecting road from the turnpike, north to 24-40 and south to Kansas Highway 32. County officials are looking at two options: a cross-country route west of County Road 1 or an upgrade of County Road 1. Although no public vote has been taken, the county commission appears to be leaning toward the cross-country route.
Blancarte and Bernhardt have a solution to the dilemma between County Road 1 and the cross-country road -- don't build either.
The neighbors are organizing an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 13 in the 4-H building at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds.
At the meeting, Blancarte, an insurance adjuster, said residents could sign a petition against a turnpike interchange south of Tonganoxie.
The petition would be against "the interchange, the road, the traffic, the development," said Bernhardt, who teaches art in Lawrence. She has joint ownership of the land with her brother, who lives in Kansas City.
"The main thing about the meeting is that it's informational," Blancarte said. "Hopefully we'll get the questions we have answered."
One-cent sales tax
The connecting route to a turnpike interchange will be funded through a one-cent sales tax, which county residents approved last April.
During the campaign, pro-tax brochures showed proposed road improvements that the one-cent sales tax could be used for.
The interchange connector road was at the top of the list, but improvements also were projected for arterial roads between Leavenworth and Tonganoxie, County Road 8 improvements and additional road projects. In addition, the brochure listed a project that would enhance emergency vehicle communication systems, required through the Homeland Security program.
Blancarte and Bernhardt voiced concern that the interchange connector project would be very costly and wouldn't allow money for other projects, including those in cities throughout the county.
Blancarte said she thought, in truth, that residents were voting for the turnpike and "didn't know that."
She said County Road 25, which has been widened in areas, would be a more logical choice for an connecting road, but said she would rather no road be built from the turnpike in the area.
It's an issue about which Blancarte has many concerns.
Bernhardt is worried the development would drastically change the landscape.
"Another Leawood or 95th and Metcalf," Bernhardt said. "That, to me, strikes terror in my heart."
She also is concerned about what development could do to the environment.
"You can't replace an ecosystem once you've torn it up either," Bernhardt said.
The two neighbors feel strongly about the interchange issue, but they stressed that they want to have an informative, civil meeting.
"We don't want this to get personal," Bernhardt said. "We don't want to go there.
"We want it pleasant, informative."
"Basically just get the word out there," she said.
Anyone is welcome to attend the meeting, which Bernhardt hoped would resemble a town hall meeting.
It's a meeting the rural residents hope will shine more light on the turnpike issue -- and find out how residents truly feel about the interchange.
"We don't want Tongie to turn into another Johnson County," Bernhardt said. "We understand progress happens and that's just reality.
"But to turn into another Johnson County, it would be deadly."