• Special to the Daily Leader
Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Deb Miller and assistant secretary/state transportation engineer Jerry Younger met with 29 stakeholders Monday at the Mid-America Air Museum to discuss concerns about the future of U.S. Highway 54 and the Liberal region.
Represented were National Carriers, Groendyke, Frontier Transports, J&R Sand, Conestoga Energy, Panhandle Oilfield Services, Liberal Chamber of Commerce, Liberal Economic Development, the Joint Economic Development Council, the cities of Liberal, Kismet and Plains, USD No. 480 and USD No. 483, Seward County, Representative Bill Light and Representative candidate Steve Alford.
Southwest Passage Initiative for Regional and Interstate Transportation (SPIRIT) hosted the meeting and had requested the secretary to come to Liberal to meet with this diverse group. SPIRIT Executive Director Jack Taylor opened the meeting with a few remarks and then asked the stakeholders to address their concerns.
Various topics were covered by the attendees including:
o Thirty-nine percent of the daily traffic on Hwy. 54 is large commercial trucks.
o National Carriers alone has 110 livestock haulers making two trips a day on this highway, and combined with National Beef, run 500 to 600 reefer trucks per week.
o All grain is hauled into the Conestoga ethanol plant with 160 to 200 trucks making deliveries each day from all over this region.
o USD 480 vehicles traveled 80,500 miles on Hwy. 54 in the 2009-2010 school year, hauling 7,582 students, administrators and staff – competing with all the heavy trucks and other traffic. They traveled 16,351 of these miles just to Wichita and back, taking 937 students, administrators and staff. This is in addition to the regular bus routes picking up and returning students each day.
o USD 483 buses travel 39,000 miles per year on Hwy. 54 alone transporting an average of 400 students each day.
o Too many deaths have occurred on Hwy. 54 from one vehicle going left of center and hitting another vehicle head-on. This could be almost eliminated by building a 4-lane divided expressway.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FOR THE REGION:
o Our cities are oftentimes eliminated from competing for industry of business because of not being on or near a 4-lane highway.
o Liberal has had four large trucking companies move their reporting location to other cities or states on a 4-lane highway, so Liberal misses out on sales taxes, property taxes and state tax revenue from the families, the truck drivers and the trucking companies.
LOSS OF SALES TAX AND REVENUE:
o Liberal is the center of a shopping region which covers an 80-mile radius and includes 80,000 people. This gives Liberal more opportunities for shopping and service in this region than any other town or city.
o Seward County has the highest pull factor of any county, but without safe, efficient transportation infrastructure, it will lose some of this.
o Oklahoma will complete the 4-laning from the Texas line to the Kansas line in four or five years. When this is done, residents of Liberal will drive on 145 miles of 4-lane and only 20 miles of Super 2 highway between here and Amarillo to see specialists; more people will be going to Amarillo for sporting events and entertainment, and shopping while there. All this sales and tax revenue will be for Texas’ benefit instead of Kansas.
o Hwy. 54 is the only major east-west highway in Kansas south of I-70, going all the way to the west coast and to one of the largest border crossings at El Paso. If it were 4-laned, truckers and other travelers could save 120 miles by taking Hwy. 54 from Wichita to I-40 at Tucumcari instead of going south on a 4-lane to Oklahoma City and then west to Tucumcari.
“Miller said the number one concern for everyone is to maintain the fine highway system we now have, and the majority of the funds in the recently passed transportation bill will be used to maintain highways and bridges,” Taylor said. “T-WORKS includes only $1.8 billion for modernization for the entire state, so the competition for this money will be tougher than it was in 1989 and 1999. We must prioritize what we want. What segment of Hwy. 54 should we be asking to be upgraded? What else should we ask for?” Taylor continued. “After hearing from the secretary, we realize we will have to make our case well and campaign for it. We will also be asking our state representatives and senators for their support.”
The next opportunity to campaign will be a T-WORKS workshop on Aug. 24. The meeting will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the Dodge City House and Convention Center at 2408 W. Wyatt Earp Blvd. in Dodge City.
“This will be an opportunity for us to learn what information and facts we should prepare so we can testify at the regional consulting meetings later this fall,” Taylor added.
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