Leavenworth County southern link moves ahead despite opposition
Jonathan Kealing One Leavenworth County resident is ready for "civil war" to stop a proposed highway interchange at the intersection of Leavenworth County Road 1 and the Kansas Turnpike.
The improved road could link to a north-south highway in western Johnson County through the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. That road is shown on the county's Country Arterial Road Network Plan but not yet designed or funded. Together, the two proposed projects would link Interstate 35 with the Turnpike.
It may take civil war and a lot more, though, to get in the way of the $13 million project to improve County Road 1 from U.S. Highway 24/40 to Kansas Highway 32 to support the increased traffic load. The outrage felt by some residents of southern Leavenworth County drew about 80 people to the county fairgrounds in Tonganoxie on Sunday afternoon to rally opposition to the project.
The opposition meeting comes just three days after the Leavenworth County Commission approved a resolution, 2-1, reaffirming its support for the project, at an expense of at least $8 million. Tonganoxie is expected to provide $1 million, and the Kansas Turnpike Authority has promised $2 million. The source of the remaining $1.96 million has not yet been identified, but Leavenworth County Commissioners hope to secure some federal money for the project.
Residents at the Sunday meeting contend, however, that the true price of the project will end up being much higher than the $12.96 million estimated by engineers. They say the county will end up footing the bill for any overruns, plus whatever is not provided by the federal government, if anything at all is provided. The money from the county and Tonganoxie would come from a voter-approved 1-cent sales tax that runs through 2016.
Two types of opponents
The opponents to the plan generally fall into two camps: Those who view the construction of the interchange as a waste of money and those who view the interchange as a fundamental change in the culture of Leavenworth County. Julie Downes falls more in the first category, while Jan Bernhardt and Maryam Hjersted fall decidedly in the second.
Bernhardt stands to lose a portion of her 320 acres to the project if it is approved.
"My concern is the access road to the toll booth will go right by my house," Bernhardt said. "Even beyond that, all the development that will follow this interchange is scary. We have a right to have a voice in this process, and we haven't had a voice."
Bernhardt said she's upset the project hasn't been handled in a more forthright manner.
Downes, who owns property along County Road 1 south of the turnpike, said it's her belief that voters didn't know what they were approving when they passed the sales tax. At least one person who attended the meeting said he'd voted for the increase but wouldn't have if he'd known about the project.
Hjersted, who said she'd fight a civil war to stop the project and the possibility of development that would follow, is insistent that this project destroys the community that has been created in Leavenworth County.
"It's like the difference between living on Walden Pond and living near a strip mall," she said. "Development impacts not only the environment, but the community as well."
Hjersted said her land has several acres of forests and native prairie grasses that she doesn't want to see spoiled by an interchange that she says the county doesn't need.
Leavenworth County officials argue that the proposal has been in the works since the 1990s and will provide better access to the county. This, in turn, they say, will allow for growth and development.
Lawrence attorney Price Banks was also on hand to offer advice to all those who were at the gathering Sunday. He said it's still possible for upset residents to change or force cancellation of the project.
"Their most favored action is going to be political, at this point," Banks said. "I think the good news here is they don't know where the funding is coming from."
A member of the audience asked Banks whether a lawsuit could be filed. Banks, while saying that a lawsuit certainly could be filed, stressed that the governments were most likely acting within their legal rights.
Banks also said the project would have a direct effect on Lawrence and Douglas County. He relayed a conversation he'd had with Leavenworth County Commissioner Dean Oroke in which he indicated a road north and east of Lawrence would be built to connect with the proposed interchange at Turnpike milepost 212, eight miles east of the East Lawrence interchange.
Lawrence City Commissioners previously have expressed reservations about the interchange being located so far east of Lawrence. They want an interchange to be built closer to town to help provide a bypass around town. As it stands right now, County Road 1 south of K-32 becomes Douglas County Road 1061 at the county line -- the Kansas River. County Road 1061 winds through Eudora and connects to Kansas Highway 10. There have been discussions, but no action, on improving the road from K-32 to K-10.
Eudora City Council members and Douglas County Commissioners previously have passed resolutions supporting the proposal on its current alignment, although Eudora officials would prefer a long-term proposal that includes a new route around Eudora.