Turnpike offering $2 million for road upgrade
City still mulling any contribution
Kansas Turnpike Authority has offered to add to the County Road 1 kitty.
"We might be willing to put $2 million into a financial plan ... to make these improvements to County Road 1," Mike Johnston, KTA president and chief executive, said last Wednesday at a Leavenworth County commissioners meeting.
Earlier this year, KTA announced tentative plans to build a turnpike interchange at County Road 1 three miles south of Tonganoxie. KTA's investment though, hinged on the county's ability to make the necessary upgrades to County Road 1.
The cost of improving six miles of Leavenworth County Road 1, from U.S. 24-40 to Kansas Highway 32, is projected at $14 million.
Currently, the county does not have the total funding to do the work. And KTA won't build a turnpike interchange until County Road 1 -- the turnpike access road -- has been improved.
At first, the discussion included only the north three miles of County Road 1, from the turnpike to U.S. Highway 24-40. But after an outcry of concern about increased turnpike-generated traffic on County Road 1 to the south, the county agreed to improve the three miles of the road south to Kansas Highway 32, as well.
According to Michael Spickelmier, the $14 million estimated cost to improve the six-mile stretch is based on historical data from the county's 2004 improvement of County Road 2 near Basehor. Spickelmier said this estimate includes inflated costs to cover what likely could be 2009 construction prices.
Johnston said a separate study by KTA projected the County Road 1 work at $14 million, as well.
There was standing room only in the commissioners' room at the start of Wednesday afternoon's two-hour session. Among those attending were Tonganoxie officials, including City Administrator Mike Yanez, Mayor Dave Taylor and all of the city council members.
Commissioner Dean Oroke announced that $1 million in federal highway funds might be available for County Road 1.
However, Oroke said if the county accepted federal money to complete the road work, that could mean the county would have more stringent requirements to follow.
"As you accept more funding and you get more people involved, it appears then we have more requirements, more hoops we have to jump through as the funding sources become available," Oroke said, adding, "I think that the project has to undergo more scrutiny for environmental impact."
County commissioner Don Navinsky said, "Sometimes $1 million from the federal government can cost you $2 million."
Later, Johnston cautioned the commissioners about making assumptions regarding federal highway funds.
"... I would encourage you to try to learn what would be required if we accept one dollar of federal aid for this project," Johnston said. "It may well be that it's not as onerous ..."
Back to the basics
Jan Bernhardt, who lives near the proposed interchange, asked why the commissioners wanted the interchange.
"I don't understand, with the houses not selling, with gas prices going up and with all that's going on in the Middle East and other places, I don't understand why you need the interchange," Bernhardt said.
Oroke said it's because of traffic.
"Traffic accumulates to about 27,000 vehicles a day," Oroke said. "If something's not done in the near future on 24-40 highway, you're going to see traffic on 24-40 highway much like the traffic on Shawnee Mission Parkway today."
Oroke said much of the traffic on K-16 that's Kansas City bound likely would take the County Road 1 route using the new interchange.
However, several Tongan-oxie-area residents said they thought it unlikely that commuters who live on K-16 would drive four miles out of their way Â°to access the new turnpike.
Several people at the meeting asked commissioners why the County Road 1 route was selected, rather than a route farther east.
Oroke said the decision was based on KTA engineering studies.
Later, Graeber said the site selection also was tied to KTA's potential revenue from the interchange. He noted that KTA is paying to build the interchange and wants to do so where it can recoup its investment.
Kerry Holton, who farms in the County Road 1 area, expressed doubt $14 million would be adequate.
Holton asked, "If you have a major discrepancy, which I'm sure there will be one since it's three years out, how is this discrepancy going to be funded -- where's it coming from, where's the money? Can you get a bid three years out? So, we still are relatively clueless as to what the true cost of the project is going to be."
Decade of growth
When asked why the county was in a hurry to build the road now to handle future growth, Commissioner Don Navinsky asked people to think about U.S. 24-40, and what it was like when it was a two-lane highway.
"Did we need it then?" Navinsky asked. "No. ... we have a chance now with this issue. We have people from KTA that are acceptable to do this. Sometimes you don't want to wait until after you need the situation."
At Wednesday's meeting, critics of the turnpike interchange said, even if County Road 1 is improved from U.S. 24-40 to K-32, that County Road 1 south to Eudora won't be able to handle the increase in turnpike-generated traffic.
But one farmer had a different idea.
John Wise lives at the intersection of County Road 1 and K-32.
"I hear there is a good possibility that when they get to 32 highway, with the new bridge at Linwood, that traffic will go east from there and angle over to the old Hercules power plant that Johnson County wants to develop," Wise said. "This is being discussed by Johnson County people right now."
When Wise said this was talk he'd heard at the coffee shop, Oroke quipped that he'd like to know where Wise went for coffee so he could pick up information there, too.
However, on Friday, when asked about Wise's comment, Oroke was more serious, and said, "There may be some validity to his comments. I'll let it go at that."
Oroke said traffic projections show that the County Road 1 south of K-32, though challenging with a railroad crossing, two river bridges and a route through downtown Eudora, can handle expected traffic for the next 10 years.
Give it a year
After the meeting, Commissioner Clyde Graeber said the session had been planned to give the public an opportunity to hear from KTA and the county, and for commissioners to have input from Tonganoxie city council members.
"It was just the opportunity for general discussion as to the merits and demerits of the project," Graeber said, "the anticipated cost, revenue projections that we have and the lack of funding that we have. We don't have the money. We're committed to $8 million and there need to be other partners, particularly since we have to build south to K-32."
Though there's been much talk about the proposed interchange, Oroke said the talk can't go on forever. Something has to happen, and fairly soon or not at all.
"I'm going to be like Clyde," Oroke said Friday. "If we don't do it in a year I might throw my hands up in the air and walk away and put the money into another project."
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