Kansas Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller adresses the audience Thursday in Dodge City about the T-Works projects for western Kansas, while Dodge City Mayor Rick Sowers, center, and Governor Sam Brownback listen. Photo courtesy Jack Taylor
• L&T staff report
DODGE CITY – Southwest Kansas residents were pleased when Gov. Sam Brownback announced Thursday that 10 miles of U.S. Highway 54 east of Liberal would be expanded to a 4-lane expressway. According to S.P.I.R.I.T. Executive Director Jack Taylor, who was in attendance in Dodge City, people were very excited at the news.
“It was pretty exciting when the governor came to the point of announcing the actual projects,” Taylor said. “When he came to Highway 54 and said that we were to receive 10 miles of four-lane expressway from Liberal east, quite a roar went up. We were all extremely happy that it had happened that way.”
The Governor, who was introduced by Dodge City Mayor Rick Sowers at an event at United Wireless Arena, said four-lane expansion projects on U.S. 50 and U.S. 54 will address issues associated with high truck traffic.
On U.S. 54, a 10-mile, four-lane expressway will be constructed from Liberal 10 miles to the northeast in Seward County for an estimated $59 million. In addition,
preliminary engineering work will begin to extend the U.S. 54 four-laning to the Seward-Meade county line.
“This work will provide huge safety and economic benefits to those who depend on these roads for work, school and commerce,” Brownback said. “The projects I’m announcing today are the ones you told us were most important to you during the local consultation process, and I’m pleased we could address those concerns with the limited funding we have available.”
Two days earlier, Brownback had announced other improvements to U.S. 54 between Pratt and Kingman.
“As far as Highway 54 is concerned, the state was awarded 13 miles over in Kingman and Pratt County,” Taylor explained. “They’re going to add eight miles on the end of that 10 miles they’ve already done around Cunningham. They’re going to add eight miles going east and five miles going west.
“That’s 13 miles, and this 10 miles out here will take this almost to the river bridge,” he added.
Also included with Brownback’s announcements Thursday was an additional study on further pre-improvements to U.S. 54.
“A study is under way to see about taking that highway on to the Meade County line (from the Cimarron Valley),” Taylor said. “That means additional money has to come in for it to do that – either federal money or whatever. At least we got that.”
In announceing the state’s T-Works plan for western Kansas, U.S. Highway 83 was not left out, either, Taylor said.
“They’re going to redo Highway 83 from Liberal to Highway 51 where you turn west to go to Hugoton,” he said. “They’re studying where to put and how to put passing lanes in there while they’re redoing that highway. It’ll be a help, too, because of all the truck traffic going up there.”
A four-lane expressway will also be built on 16 miles of U.S. 50 from Dodge City to Cimarron for an estimated $69 million. Funding for all projects announced this week on the Governor’s four-day, five-city tour are funded under T-WORKS, the transportation program passed by the 2010 Legislature.
Other projects announced include the 15-mile reconstruction of U.S. 281 in Russell County, a modernization project that will straighten the curves on K-27 in Wallace County, and alignment and shoulder improvements on 26 miles of K-383 in Phillips/Norton counties.
Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller, who is accompanying the Governor on the announcement tour, said T-WORKS is significantly smaller than the two previous transportation programs. As a result, KDOT recommended lower-cost options such as expressways instead of freeways, and adding passing lanes instead of four-laning many highways.
“We call that ‘designing to a budget’, much like you have to do when you think about home repairs and remodeling,” Miller said.
“We’re taking this approach because most Kansans we’ve heard from have said some improvement is better than no improvement at all.”
Taylor pointed out Oklahoma is nearing completion of 4-laning U.S. 54 through the Panahndle, and the 10 miles east of Liberal will help the overall goal of eventually seeing the highway 4-laned all the way from Wichita to El Paso, Texas.
“The Oklahoma Legislature passed a spending bill last week that assured that this section across Oklahoma would be done in two years,” Taylor said. “That’ll be terrific because the three miles we have out here and the 10 miles on east is another step.”
The list of expansion and modernization projects announced Thursday can be viewed on the T-WORKS Web site at http://www.ksdot.org/t-works/. Projects for other regions of the state also will be posted on the T-WORKS Web site and updated daily after announcements.