U.S. 59 faces environmental study
State and federal highway officials announced Thursday they will conduct an intensive environmental study of the proposed realignment of U.S. Highway 59.
"We started to pick up more and more information about possible impacts, and very honestly, we decided this was the way to go," said Secretary of Transportation Dean Carlson.
After KDOT revealed Feb. 24 that it wants to build the freeway one mile east of the existing U.S. 59, the project faced three possibilities: an expanded environmental assessment, a more intensive environmental impact statement (EIS), or a finding of no significant impact (FONSI), which would give an immediate go-ahead for a 2007 construction start.
The decision to do an environmental impact study likely will delay the project, officials said.
A draft of the statement is anticipated to be completed by fall. Its release will be followed by a 45-day public comment period after which a finalized version will be made. Another 30 days of public comment then follows.
The entire process could add a year to two years to the project, officials said.
The study will focus primarily on how the freeway will affect natural resources as well as its cultural and historical impacts. It also will examine other options for the road and why KDOT selected the route over others.
Officials said the decision was due largely to a tremendous volume of public comment.
"Public comment was a factor," said David Geiger, the division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.
"We looked at it and said let's just go ahead and do an EIS. We're not aware of any significant (environmental) impacts at this point, but we decided that rather than debate whether to do a FONSI we'd take that issue off table."
"I think public will be more confident in the project if we do an EIS," Carlson said.
Area officials and activists were pleased with the decision.
"We applaud KDOT and Federal Highway's wise decision to do an EIS," said Caryn Goldberg, spokeswoman for the Franklin-Douglas Counties Coalition of Concerned Citizens.
"We did a lot of research and work, and many people stepped forward We look forward to continuing to help KDOT in the future."
"I think any kind of study KDOT can do before putting down the road is probably a good idea," Ottawa City Commissioner Blaine Finch said.
"I'm not surprised," Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "I think there were obviously some questions that required additional study to answer."