Legislators, candidates, contractors, officials, business leaders and other stakeholders met Friday to discuss the future of transportation in southeast Kansas.

Legislators, candidates, contractors, officials, business leaders and other stakeholders met Friday to discuss the future of transportation in southeast Kansas.
The Transportation Leveraging Investments in Kansas (TLINK) met with leaders in southeast Kansas for two reasons: to address the problems and projects facing the region and to find ways to fund those projects.
Representatives from Franklin, Miami, Linn, Anderson, Coffey, Greenwood, Woodson, Allen, Bourbon, Crawford, Neosho, Wilson, Elk, Chautauqua, Montgomery, Labette and Cherokee counties came together to look forward for the next five to 10 years.
The event is important to local officials, as the current Comprehensive Transportation Program is set to expire in late 2009. That means a new transportation plan will need to be put into place during the next legislative session or so.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius created TLINK to make recommendations to her about which and how projects and programs should be listed on a potential transportation plan. TLINK is a 35-member board.
Southeast Kansas is the seventh of eight statewide stops the board will make in attempting to find out the needs of area officials. Other meetings were held in Ulysses, Hays, Hutchinson, Topeka, Abilene and Olathe. The final meeting will be held in Wichita.
“We need to know the programs and projects needed for all modes of transportation,” Tim Rogers, TLINK co-chairman, said. “The best way we have found to do that is to go out and have local consultation meetings. These draw the officials and the citizens out so we can hear what they have to say.”
Many projects were identified at the meeting in addition to those already identified, including many in Cherokee, Crawford and Bourbon counties.

Identifying projects
There were five divisions under consideration at Friday’s meeting.
The issues were not confined to just one sector. The break-out sessions included meetings on highways, transit, aviation, rail and bike/pedestrian travel.
There was a focus on a new means of finding projects at the meeting, a shift from the traditional model of using a priority formula which is fairly rigid and allowed little flexibility.
The new model of identifying projects begins with the old way of doing things, but then moves to a round of community and stakeholder input. After that is an analysis of the economic analysis followed by another round of stakeholder input. Finally, this process will choose projects based on all the dialogue and input.
The other aspect of identifying programs and projects revolved around whether to create a “red map” of projects that would be completed based on the next transportation plan or to create more flexible ways of identifying programs.
Several officials and legislators agreed that they would support some type of mixture of the two, so that the “red map” could get people to vote for and support the plan, yet still leave room for future improvements and projects to be developed as needed.

Highways
Attempting to describe all of the projects and programs identified for the 17-county region at Friday’s meeting would be difficult.
Simply counting the projects and programs brought to the board and Kansas Department of Transportation’s attention at Friday’s meeting would count more than 50 projects.
However, there were a little more than a dozen projects identified for Crawford, Bourbon and Cherokee counties.
Some of those were identified as statewide priorities for the next transportation plan through the priority formula and through local consult meetings.
“I think the chances of some piece of those projects getting funded is great, but only a piece of that,” Terry Heidner, KDOT legislative liaison, said. “The whole thing could cost all year.”
The three projects listed as both identified by the state and by local officials all coincide with U.S. Highway 69.
The first project is a feasibility study in Bourbon County from the Crawford County line to K-7 to expand the highway to four lanes. The second is quite similar: a feasibility study from Arma north to the Bourbon County line to expand the highway to four lanes.
The third project is right-of-way property acquisitions to create a more western U.S. 69 bypass from K-47 south of Arma to U.S. 400 south of Pittsburg.
Other projects listed as statewide priorities, but only identified by one means were: expanding K-68 to four lanes from Ottawa to the Missouri state line, upgrading U.S. 400 to a four-lane expressway from Wichita to the Missouri state line, upgrading U.S. 169 to four lanes from the Oklahoma state line to K-7, improving the alignment and shoulders on K-47 from U.S. 59 Highway to U.S. 400 Highway, and improving K-7 from Columbus to Cherokee.
Other projects for the Cherokee-Bourbon-Crawford counties, but not listed as a statewide priority include: widening the bridge over the railroad in Pittsburg along K-126, improving the alignment and shoulders of K-7 from U.S. 54 north to K-31, improving the alignment and shoulders of K-7 from Girard to U.S. 69, improving K-96 from U.S. 69 to the Missouri state line, designating a left-turn lane into Southeast High School in Cherokee on U.S. 400, reconstructing the underpass in Fort Scott along U.S. 54, paving the shoulders along U.S. 54 throughout southeast Kansas, widening K-126 to a four-lane road with a curb and gutter, and upgrading U.S. 54 from the Allen County line east to the Missouri state line to four lanes.

Funding
Friday’s event was twofold: First identifying the projects that need funding, and then to identify sources of funding.
A common motif throughout the discussion was the saying that “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
The reason for that motif is that in order to fund all of the projects, a great deal of funding is required.
According to Heidner, each mile of expansion of a two-lane highway into a four-lane highway costs about $5.7 million.
For example, completing the 65 miles remaining of Highway 69, if building on existing roads (which, for the western bypass around Pittsburg, does not completely exist yet), would cost $370.5 million.
Heidner said Kansas funds about $500 million in transportation each year right now. And that includes costs for maintenance and preservation throughout the state.
“We just don’t have the money to go out and do 50 miles of four-lane expansion at a time,” Heidner said. “Any of these routes will only potentially get a piece done at a time. We’ll get a piece of K-47, a piece of U.S. 400, a piece of U.S. 69. It often starts with the worst first, based on traffic volumes, truck volumes, pavement conditions, and geometrics.”
In order to fund improvements of this sort, there will have to be an inevitable increase in taxes in some form.
Officials discussed some means to funding them, such as toll roads, sales taxes, income taxes, or creating a coalition of certain counties to raise money by, for example, a one-cent sales tax that would be devoted specifically for U.S. 69.
Persons may look into how a community might fund these projects and programs by visiting www.kansastlink.com/calculator.
“It’s high time people recognize how important this project is. The public doesn’t see that. All they see is a pothole. They need to know what must be done to fix our roads. We need to get people to use the calculator to see for themselves where the funding must come from.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.