U.S. 59 decision is back in hands of KDOT
After all the discussions and delays, there is still no definite answer for the fate of U.S. Highway 59.
The Kansas Department of Transportation had asked the governing bodies of Douglas and Franklin counties to choose an eastern or western alignment for a freeway to replace U.S. 59 back in December. Originally a Jan. 15 deadline was set, then extended to Feb. 15.
When the smoke had finally cleared Monday, all five governing bodies had checked in with decisions, but it wasn't what KDOT was after. Four of the five had basically said yes to the eastern alignment a mile east of the present highway.
However, the Douglas County Commission chose another route. Commissioners voted unanimously Monday not to choose either alignment and instead request that U.S. 59 be improved and more studies be done. There was no unanimous decision, which KDOT wanted, and officials there now say they'll decide in the coming weeks how they will proceed.
"Based on their votes, Douglas County was the only one that didn't favor the eastern alignment," said Marty Matthews, KDOT spokesman. "We've been waiting for this input. There is obviously a lot of stuff to mull over. We're not ready to announce a decision on it."
Douglas County Commissioner Tom Taul said the commission isn't opposed to a freeway and is opposed to the western alignment, but thinks it's more important to fix U.S. 59 now.
"Basically our message at this time was no to either route," said Taul. "It will be seven or eight years before a freeway can be built, so fix U.S. 59 now.
"We've had questions about why U.S. 59 can't be fixed and all we've got from KDOT was 'nope, it can't be done," he said. "I guess it was our turn to say nope."
Taul also said he doesn't think the commission is being "short-sighted" by its request and its failure to choose between the eastern or western alignment.
"I don't believe we're short-sighted," he said. "Our real concern today is 59 highway, which is a road that needs to be improved. This is a road that KDOT has had trouble taking care of all along. They want to build a new freeway and dump 59 on us."
Taul also said there's no doubt in his mind that a freeway is the best answer in the future. But, he thinks that improvements to U.S. 59 should be included as part of the $169 million package KDOT has said the freeway will cost.
"No one's opposed to the project. I don't think anyone thinks we don't need a freeway in the future," he said. "We are not going to support either route at this time. I will speak for myself and say that I could support a freeway on down the road, but first fix 59 now."
For the record, the Baldwin City Council, Lawrence City Commission and Ottawa City Commission all chose the eastern alignment. The Franklin County Commission basically did the same, but instead indicated it would support KDOT's final decision, whatever that might be. Douglas County Commissioners were the only ones to just say no.
KDOT officials had originally said if there wasn't a unanimous decision on the eastern or western route from the local governing bodies, that they would opt for their original "preferred route," which is the eastern alignment. Matthews backed down from that assessment Tuesday, indicating the decision wasn't "a done deal."
"If it was unanimous, it would be a done deal," said Matthews. "Now we'll have to discuss it some more. We were hoping for consensus from the local governments in helping us with that decision, but the ultimate authority has always been ours."