By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
In February, Max Zimmerman and Jack Taylor of the Southwest Passage Initiative for Regional Interstate Transportation visited with Governor Sam Brownback and Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller in Topeka regarding getting more miles of four-lane highway in western Kansas.
“I carried a copy of the newspaper from here that had a picture on the front page of the truck and the pickup that was burning over by Kismet that had happened just shortly before we went up there,” Taylor said at Monday’s Seward County Commission meeting.
Taylor said he laid one copy each in front of Miller and Brownback.
“I said, ‘Governor, that’s what we live with, and that’s what we die with having a narrow two-lane highway, and this could’ve been prevented had we had four lanes instead of two,’” Taylor said. “I realize somebody was distracted momentarily, but it wouldn’t have been that tragic had it been four lanes instead of two.”
After Brownback and Zimmerman had discussed celebrations for the state’s 150th anniversary, Taylor approached the governor about the sesquicentennial, and at Monday’s meeting, he had the commissioners cover the right half of a map of Kansas, leaving only the western half of the state uncovered.
“In 150 years in the state of Kansas, the state of Kansas has built us 13 miles of four-lane highway in western Kansas,” he said. “Ten miles up by Garden City by their airport and three miles from our city limits to the state line, and (Senator) Jerry Moran got an earmark to pay for a big part of that with federal money.”
After Miller noted that Interstate 70 lies partly in western Kansas, Taylor reminded her that thoroughfare was built by the federal government under President Eisenhower more than 50 years ago.
“The state has built us 13 miles in the entire western half of the state,” Taylor said. “Deb Miller then said, ‘We’re building five more miles west of Garden City,’ and I said, ‘In another 150 years when that’s finished, you will have built us 18 miles of four-lane highway.’”
Taylor then asked Miller how many miles had been built in that time in the state’s history in its eastern half.
“I said, ‘I realize they have the industry, and they have the population, but one of the reasons they have gotten all that is because you have built them the infrastructure to bring those people there and bring the goods there and carry the finished product out,’” Taylor said. “For our economic future, we have to have that kind of infrastructure in order to grow and even to survive.”
Taylor said he then told Brownback that Oklahoma would be finished with its portion of four laning U.S. Highway 54 within the next two years and that Texas would be improving a portion of its share of the highway too.
“They’ll build passing lanes and widen the highway from Texhoma to Stratford, which will give you and I 145 miles of four-lane highway and 20 miles of super two between here and Amarillo so that we can spend our dollars in Texas instead of Kansas,” Taylor said. “I said, ‘Governor, is that really what you want? All that revenue going to Texas.’”
Taylor said many local doctors are sending patients to specialists in Amarillo, Texas, because of a better highway and a shorter distance.
“In order for you to get people from out here to continue to come to Wichita and spend their money in Kansas, we’re going to have to provide them a safe efficient highway in order to get there,” he said.
In March, Zimmerman and Taylor next visited Washington D.C. for the annual Transportation Convention, for which SPIRIT was the co-hosts this year.
“We talked to many people who are interested in highways and other forms of transportation from all over the United States and a lot of our legislators,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he and Zimmerman had also gone from office to office in Washington, and part of that included talks with at least one senator and representative from each of the four states in the SPIRIT corridor.
“We mentioned to them that in 2005, the legislature designated Highway 54 from Wichita to El Paso as the SPIRIT High Priority Corridor on the federal highway system,” Taylor said. “If that is a high priority corridor on the federal highway system, then the transportation bill that they’re working on right now should include improvements to those high priority corridors.”
Taylor said he feels it’s of significant importance to keep the message of SPIRIT and the needs of western Kansas in front of lawmakers and transportation officials.
“The traffic is getting heavier every day, and part of that is because of the increase of fuel prices,” he said. “We see more trucks that are cutting across here and going from Wichita to Tucumcari rather than cutting down and taking the four lane down to Oklahoma City and going west to Tucumcari. That saves 120 miles.”