Eastern route is KDOT’s pick for freeway
There weren't too many people surprised Thursday when the Kansas Department of Transpiration announced its "final" decision on the fate of U.S. Highway 59.
KDOT Secretary Dean Carlson made the announcement, stating the agency's "preferred" eastern alignment for a new four-lane freeway a mile east of the present highway was again the choice.
"We will retain this as our preferred alignment while we continue environmental analyses of the alternatives in the corridor and complete the required environmental documentation," said Carlson.
But was the announcement the "final" choice on the proposed $169 million project linking Lawrence to Ottawa with the freeway? That was supposedly what happened in November when KDOT revealed its preferred alignment, only to back down and put the decision in the hands of local officials. Many aren't sure this time around is any different.
"Final? Haven't I heard that word final before?" asked Steve Krysztof, who lives just east of U.S. 59 and is a member of the Families and Farmers for the Best Freeway, which opposed the other alternative, a freeway just east of the present highway.
Caryn Goldberg, spokesperson for the Douglas-Franklin County Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which opposed the freeway options and favors widening U.S. 59, doesn't think KDOT's announcement is the final word either.
"I don't think so," said Goldberg. "If I did, I would stop doing what I'm doing."
The group has changed focus now to come up with a list of safety improvements to the present road, such as shoulders and passing lanes, while the process of determining what will happen next with the road plays out.
"One of our biggest concerns is the safety on U.S. 59 and the eastern alignment doesn't do anything to solve that," she said.
The group has also said it will file lawsuits if necessary to stop a freeway.
"We really don't want to go to court if we don't have to," Goldberg said. "We are very confident that we would win such a lawsuit, though. If we are forced into that, we will go into litigation."
The group is calling for the proper environmental studies to be done before anything else proceeds. That is what KDOT is doing and has listed the next steps in the process for starting the project, which wouldn't begin for another five to seven years:
- Completing the environmental analysis and documentation.
- Conducting field surveys.
- Preparing the preliminary design.
- Right-of-way appraisal and acquisition.
- Preparing final design plans.
The process has been criticized by the coalition.
"We kind of think Carlson's announcement is out of order," said Goldberg. "They're supposed to do the full environmental impact study before they make a choice."
For Krysztof and others, KDOT's procedures have gained approval. They also take exception to the coalition's plans.
"I'm pretty confident they (KDOT) made the decision that's best for the communities and everyone involved," said Krysztof. "I find it kind of ironic that the coalition is asking for improvements for U.S. 59 and in the same breath saying 'by the way, we're going to file a lawsuit.' The lawsuit they file will tie KDOT's hands on doing anything about 59 highway.
"Why are they delaying the process by saying they are going to file a lawsuit?" he asked.
Goldberg counters by putting the blame back on the bureaucrats.
"Most of the delays for 59 have come from KDOT," she said.