Interchange proposal stirs heated discussion
In nearly two hours of discussion Thursday about a turnpike interchange in Leavenworth County, citizens against the interchange had one thing on their minds -- finding a way to stop the county from building a connecting road to the turnpike.
County Commissioner Dean Oroke, who fielded questions and listened to comments during the meeting, didn't have a solution for the roughly 80 people who gathered
at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds.
"I don't know that you can," Oroke said.
That didn't set well with Kerry Holton, who lives east of County Road 1 on County Road 25. Holton didn't like the prospect of leaving the area's fate to the votes of three county commissioners.
In addition, he voiced concern about proper compensation to landowners affected by road development.
Leavenworth County's three commissioners -- Oroke, Clyde Graeber and Don Navinsky -- will
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decide the fate of a connecting road to the turnpike. The commissioners will vote on an access road connecting U.S. Highway 24-40 to the turnpike.
Two options have been discussed. One option is new cross-country route from 24-40 to the turnpike near County Road 1. The other is to upgrade County Road 1 and make it the connecting road.
Many people at the meeting said they didn't want an access road -- period.
"There's no right way to do the wrong thing," said Debbie Skeet, who lives with her husband just west of County Road 1. "I don't think we need it. I don't think we can afford it."
Preliminary estimates show that the cost of upgrading County Road 1 from 24-40 to Kansas Highway 32 just west of Linwood would be between $10 million and $15 million. Costs for the cross-country route would be about $3.7 million less, according to estimates.
The city of Tonganoxie has pledged that it would help the county financially with an access road -- if the county uses County Road 1 as the connecting route.
Tailgate Ranch encompasses more than 2,000 acres on the east side of County Road 1. Owners Paul McKie and his wife, Elizabeth, own the land. They've told city officials that they would voluntarily annex their land into the city -- if the County Road 1 route were picked.
City Administrator Mike Yanez, a rare voice in favor of a connecting road, spoke briefly about the city annexing land through the McKie's property, but questions quickly moved back to Oroke.
The county commissioner opened the meeting explaining how a connecting road to the turnpike would be funded -- through the one-cent sales tax extension that county voters approved in April. Oroke then discussed different construction projects for which the tax revenue was needed.
Residents, though, wanted to talk strictly about the interchange.
Lindsey Blancarte, who with Jan Bernhardt organized the meeting, stopped Oroke and asked him to discuss the turnpike situation.
"Ma'am, I did not interrupt you and I think you owe me the courtesy," Oroke said.
Blancarte responded: "Seriously, it has nothing to do with what we're here for. Get on with it."
Several residents voiced disapproval for any roads that would alter the rural landscape.
Karen Fish, who lives south of Tonganoxie, but has lived in New York and California, was concerned that the turnpike road would cause extensive traffic problems in Tonganoxie. She doesn't want the city to change.
Julie Downes, who lives on County Road 1, said she once lived in an urban setting, but appreciates the area between Tonganoxie and the turnpike.
"I'm a city girl and I've fallen in love with the country," Downes said.
Downes later questioned the motives of those involved in the turnpike connector road.
"It sounds like a money issue," Downes said. "For the county and the city and for Tailgate."
If the turnpike interchange and connecting road are built, the Kansas Turnpike Authority would pay for the interchange, while the county would pay for the connecting road. In initial discussions, county commissioners thought the county was responsible for a road from 24-40 south of Tonganoxie to the turnpike. More recently, commissioners learned that the county would be responsible for County Road 1 improvements on the south side of the turnpike also -- to County Road 32.
When the meeting finally ended, Jan Bernhardt, who helped moderate the meeting, thanked Oroke for coming. "We put him in the hot seat," Bernhardt said.