Archive for Thursday, March 13, 2003

KDOT head outlines goals for K-10 study

Consultants to consider possible lane expansions, additional interchanges

March 13, 2003

Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller told a gathering in De Soto Wednesday that planning would start this month for future improvements to Kansas Highway 10 that will look at adding another lane to the freeway in the next decade.

While updating about 40 members of the K-10 Association on the planning study, Miller, who took over the top post at the Kansas Department of Transportation in January, warned that the state's continuing budget crisis could threaten the department's ability to meet commitments in the state's current $13 billion highway improvement program.

In a short address to those attending the gathering at the De Soto USD 232 Administration Building, Miller said an 18-month study of K-10's future needs was set to begin this month. But she said communities on the K-10 corridor shouldn't expect major improvements to the highway "this decade." There would be no money to finance projects identified in the study until the state's current $13 billion transportation improvement plan expired in 2009, she said.

But, Miller said the fact the state was starting to look at K-10's future needs this early was a positive sign the highway's needs would be addressed when KDOT and the Legislature start considering a new bill late this decade.

"It certainly indicates the K-10 corridor is of growing importance to the area and the state and we want to have a plan on our agenda to deal with improvements in a pro-active way," she said. "This is the fastest growing traffic corridor in the state. Traffic volume is certainly growing faster than it is on I-70."

Among the areas that will be studied in the next 18 months are:

  • Expansion of the highway to six lanes. Miller said it was assumed in the past the lanes would be added in the median. The study will look at the feasibility of adding "outside" lanes and the cost of acquiring the needed easement.
  • Added interchanges. The study's consultants will meet with local officials in an attempt to reach consensus about when and where additional interchanges should be constructed. Miller said she hoped the process would identify needs through data and not "letter writing campaigns." Applications passed over in the current transportation bill, including Eudora's Winchester Road application, would provide a starting point in the process, she said.
  • The possibility of adding a public transportation system from Lenexa to Lawrence and bike trails on the highway's easements.

The one big K-10 project slated for the current state transportation program is the controversial South Lawrence Trafficway. Soon after taking office, Miller said KDOT wouldn't proceed with the purchase of right of way for the bypass until legal questions concerning the bypass' proposed route were resolved.

"Given the state's financial situation, I didn't think that was prudent," she said.

She expected the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a decision next month supporting KDOT's proposed route for the bypass, Miller said. Environmentalists oppose the route because it cuts through northern sections of the Baker Wetlands along the Wakarusa River.

Opponents of the bypass are expected to file a court challenge to the Corps' ruling, Miller said. If the opponents didn't act soon, Miller said she may force their hand by reconsidering her decision not to purchase the needed easement.

"It's important that we move forward," she said. "If we wait too long, we will have to start the environmental process all over again."

It would take about two years to resolve a court challenge, Miller said. KDOT could use that time to adjust spending to accommodate the bypass' $110 million price tag, she said.

KDOT was feeling the effects of the state's budget crisis, like all state programs, Miller said. But the 10-year, $13-billion transportation improvement program approved in 1999 has escaped major reductions, she said.

Miller warned, however, one key funding source for the program -- yearly sales tax revenue transfers from the state's general fund -- was threatened. The KDOT director said she would be working with the Legislature to develop alternate funding sources to replace the $170 million in annual revenue the sales tax transfer provided.

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