FRANKLIN — The Kansas Department of Transportation got approval from local leaders on Thursday to pursue completing a four-lane U.S. Highway 69 from Kansas City to Pittsburg, so long as plans for the Crawford County Corridor are not put on hold or discarded.

FRANKLIN — The Kansas Department of Transportation got approval from local leaders on Thursday to pursue completing a four-lane U.S. Highway 69 from Kansas City to Pittsburg, so long as plans for the Crawford County Corridor are not put on hold or discarded.

KDOT officials addressed local leaders and officials about the potential for what is being called the Arma Connection, a six-mile stretch from north of Arma to the intersection with Kansas Highway 47. Once the Fort Scott to Arma portion of U.S. 69 is completed later this decade, the Arma Connection would be the only two-lane portion of U.S. 69 from Kansas City to Pittsburg.

KDOT officials said in June and reiterated on Thursday that the Arma Connection would have two options, one with a median and one without. Either option would cost roughly $18 million, and would involve laying at least two lanes to the east of the current alignment through Arma. Dietzel said the need to purchase right of way for the Arma Connection would be “very minimal.”

“Basically, either option would get a four-lane facility to Pittsburg, which I think is desirable to a lot of people in southeast Kansas,” said James Dietzel, KDOT road design leader. “We wanted to talk to you about whether to move forward.”

Local leaders and officials were asked to provide an answer in writing to KDOT decision makers by Nov. 3 about support for the Arma Connection, but many gave their vocal support Thursday to going ahead with the project.

One roadblock in the Arma Connection is a lack of funding. While the Fort Scott to Arma portion is funded by T-WORKS, the Arma Connection has no dollars attached to it.

But KDOT officials pointed out that the roughly $18 million Arma Connection, depending on how it is built, is more affordable and achievable than other U.S. 69 projects.

“The $18 million of something you don’t have seems to be more attainable than the first phase of the Crawford County Corridor (from north of Arma to even with U.S. 160 northwest of Frontenac), which would be $60 million,” said Mike Stringer, KDOT district engineer.

Some local leaders expressed concern that pursuing the Arma Connection would keep KDOT and others from pushing for the Crawford County Corridor. However, KDOT leaders said the Arma Connection should not affect that project. Local leaders even asked the KDOT representatives for their opinion in the matter.

“From a traveling public standpoint, as a member of the public at large, I’d like to see this included, because it adds extra capacity to the six-mile stretch,” Stringer said. “From PSU’s perspective, it gets you a four-lane from Kansas City to Pittsburg. It would accomplish that. From a local authority perspective, it’s an extra six miles of two-lane pavement that they’ll eventually take over when the freeway [Crawford County Corridor] gets built.”

KDOT officials were asked if the Arma Connection would make the road any safer. Current accident rates for U.S. 69 around Arma are above the statewide averages for a similar road, but fatality rates are below the state average.

Dietzel told the group that the accident rate would be expected to be cut in half if a four-lane road was built.

Local officials gave a consensus of support for the Arma Connection, under the condition that the Crawford County Corridor would not be jeopardized. Arma City Manager Troy Graham also had one concern.

“We’d be getting something better than what we have now. My only concern is at 640th, because we have a lot of traffic going against the road there,” Graham said.

Dietzel said that particular intersection was designed to have a dedicated left- and right-turn lane.

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.

TERMS TO KNOW
Fort Scott to Arma: Already funded by the T-WORKS transportation plan and scheduled for completed construction by the Fall of 2019, this would build an upgradeable expressway (a four-lane road with at-grade intersections, but with right-of-way purchased for a future upgrade) from the K-7 intersection along U.S. 69 to 680th Street north of Arma for roughly $47 million.

Arma Connection: A six-mile section on the existing U.S. Highway 69 from 680th to the intersection with Kansas Highway 47. Discussion involves whether to pursue this a four-lane section, and whether the road should or should not have a median.

Crawford County Corridor: The ultimate plan for Crawford County would be to build a freeway bypass starting at 680th Street north of Arma, swinging west before reaching Cherokee County one mile west of the current intersection. The total cost for this project is more than $260 million, but could be split into portions.