Archive for Wednesday, March 1, 2006

KTA approves Leavenworth County access

County required to upgrade fewer miles of road than originally proposed

March 1, 2006

The wheels are in motion to build a turnpike interchange in Leavenworth County.

On Friday, the Kansas Turnpike Authority announced plans to "proceed with building a new turnpike interchange at Milepost 212 (County Road 1) in Leavenworth County."

Lisa Callahan, KTA public relations director, said KTA would pay an estimated $7 million to construct the interchange. Bid letting could start in September 2007, with construction beginning the next month.

And tentatively, Callahan said, the interchange could be completed by fall 2009.

In turn, KTA asked Leavenworth County to fund improvement of a 3-mile stretch of County Road 1 from U.S. Highway 24-40 south to the turnpike. Earlier, KTA had asked the county to improve nearly twice that much roadway -- from U.S. Highway 24-40 south to Kansas Highway 32.

"That was our first wish to go that distance (from U.S. Highway 24-40 to the turnpike)," County Commissioner Dean Oroke said Friday. "It appears to me that it's a win-win situation and, in essence, what the project really entails (for the county) is just improving a county road."

Oroke said it will cost the county about $4 million to improve the 3-mile length of County Road 1.

The funds, Oroke said, will come from a 1-cent sales tax voters approved last year. Oroke said the sales tax is expected to generate about $2.5 million a year.

Tonganoxie City Administrator Mike Yanez said Friday's KTA announcement came as a pleasant surprise.

"KTA had really been pushing the county to do the 6-mile stretch and now they've cut down to the 3-mile stretch of road," Yanez said. "So it's kind of a reversal of the KTA board. With the 3-mile stretch, the county could afford to do it."

And, Yanez said, the turnpike access would transform southern Leavenworth County.

"I think economic development in this area is going to explode -- development for residential, commercial and possibly industrial development," Yanez said.

Among elected officials, there is a positive attitude toward growth, Yanez said.

"I think we're going to be quite the hot spot over the next five to 10 years, inasmuch as people looking to develop in this area," Yanez said.

Oroke, too, said the turnpike access would be an asset to the county.

And, Oroke ventured, in the future, it's possible that a connecting road from the turnpike interchange at County Road 1 south to Kansas Highway 10, will be built.

Oroke and Yanez were among a delegation of county and city officials who traveled to Washington, D.C., in January to lobby federal officials for funds to help pay for improvements to County Road 1.

"We've got a lot of awareness now with federal officials that we definitely have a much bigger project than improving a local county road," Oroke said. "And I am sure, I feel very confident we are going to have some federal dollars. And ... I think the state is going to come to the plate."

As far as the current project -- improving County Road 1 from U.S. Highway 24-40 to the turnpike and building the interchange -- Oroke said he feels it's important to use the same engineering firm for both.

In recent months, HNTB has done preliminary work on the project.

"One engineer will merge the two projects together so that we don't have any problems," Oroke said. "... We are going to request that when the project is bid that it will be totally bid as one project."

Meanwhile, Yanez, who has been in Tonganoxie since May 2005, is looking toward the city's future growth.

That might possibly include the annexation of Paul and Elizabeth McKie's 2,000-acre Tailgate Ranch, which runs along County Road 1 north of the turnpike. Last year, the McKie's expressed an interest in voluntarily annexing their land into the city -- if County Road 1 was chosen for the turnpike interchange.

"The news release that came out Friday, obviously kind of lights the fuse on all kinds of development prospects," Yanez said. "

And I think with anticipated increasing traffic counts in the future, with more cars using 24-40 to access the turnpike, the properties within the city are also going to become more valuable. Businesses and retail are going to go where the rooftops and the cars are."

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