Archive for Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Road project faces Dec. 31 deadline

November 29, 2006

In another month, the fate of a Kansas Turnpike interchange in Leavenworth County should be clear.

But now, the interchange's future remains murky, at best.

The sticking point is funding for improvements to County Road 1 -- between Tonganoxie and Kansas Highway 32. Upgrading that road is a requirement for the interchange to be constructed.

But finding the money for that road project has been difficult.

At last count, not enough money had been committed. And Tonganoxie residents have petitioned to vote on whether the city spends any money on the road. That petition is tied up in the courts right now.

Currently, engineers with HNTB are preparing new cost estimates. Earlier estimates placed the road improvement costs at $13 million to $14 million.

The county has committed $8 million; the Kansas Turnpike Authority has committed $2 million (in addition to the cost of constructing the interchange); and the federal government has committed $1 million. And the city of Tonganoxie recently kicked around the idea of contributing $1 million, but has not taken any action.

That totals $12 million -- short of the earlier cost estimates.

But Dean Oroke, county commission chairman, believes those earlier estimates were high.

"I think when they get through, we're going to be pretty close to where we need to be," Oroke said.

Fellow commissioner Clyde Graeber remains concerned. And he believes Tonganoxie should be looking at more than $1 million.

"If any area is going to benefit from this initially, it's the city of Tonganoxie," Graeber said. "It's coming right into their community."

The next few weeks should determine whether the road project will move forward.

That's due, in large part, to an end-of-the-year deadline the turnpike authority has set.

"They're stating that we've got to give them a definite answer by the end of the year, that their board is looking at how those funds that they've committed can be used for other projects," Graeber said. ''... They've been very good to us. They've committed $2 million to help build the road, besides the interchange itself."

And Graeber said he's not interested in using more than $8 million in county sales tax dollars for the road.

"I won't, because I'm committed to other projects that were promised to the people, also," he said.

Oroke believes other funding sources could provide money for the road, perhaps in federal dollars, perhaps in state transportation dollars. But he admits time is short.

"We'll eventually get there, I believe," he said. "If the time comes that it's not feasible, we'll pull the trigger. I'm still holding out every hope."

At Monday night's Tonganoxie City Council meeting, several angry residents expressed dismay with the city's decision to challenge the road-funding petition in court. No dates for arguments have been set in Leavenworth County District Court.

"You guys say you're up here for the people," said local resident Paula Crook. "But the people have spoke, and they said to put it on the ballot, and you're not putting it on the ballot. You're fighting us in court."

Karen Seymour, Tonganoxie, said it's unfortunate so much time was wasted obtaining signatures. She questioned whether city officials knew it was likely the issue wasn't appropriate for a vote. The city maintains that it has the administrative power to make decisions about funding for County Road 1.

"I was one of those 364 persons who signed the petition," she said. "I am of the opinion, I should have the right to sign a petition. ... We're talking about taxpayers' dollars. I feel the taxpayers should have the right to speak. I believe it should go to a public vote."

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