Archive for Thursday, December 5, 2002

Trying to make sense of KDOT

December 5, 2002

What to do about the unsafe condition of U.S. Highway 59 has been a hot topic for years, so much so that in the last four years there have been a multitude of studies, public hearings, environmental impact exams and a wealth of upheaval about any of the alternatives.

No one questioned the need to do something -- U.S. 59 has been a deadly stretch of highway for decades -- but what to do was another matter. However, the Kansas Department of Transportation, which was the lead agency in all of the above, in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration made it clear that the best option, sometimes even calling it the "preferred alternative," was to build a new four-lane freeway a mile east of the current U.S. 59.

That was until Monday. KDOT announced in a press release that the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for U.S. 59 between Ottawa and Lawrence is available for public review. Interested persons are encouraged to make comments on the FEIS findings to KDOT by Jan. 24, 2003, the release stated.

And, oh by the way, buried in the next to the last paragraph of the press release was the shocker -- KDOT's "preferred alternative" is the new four-lane freeway 300 feet east of the present U.S. 59.

Huh? What happened?

That alternative is more costly and displaces more homes and businesses than the previously "preferred alternative." The newly crowned "preferred alternative" 300 feet east of the existing highway will cost $210.3 million and displaces 33 residences and eight businesses. The route a mile east of U.S. 59 will cost $199.4 million and displace 11 residences and two businesses.

Forget for a minute about the numbers of displaced residences and businesses. Look at the price tags. There's an $11 million difference. With the state faced with severe revenue deficits of $312.1 million and announced budget cuts of millions of dollars, how can this possibly make sense?

You're right, it doesn't. Of course KDOT has maintained for years that Baldwin City doesn't need a traffic light at U.S. Highway 56 and Sixth Street when everyone in the city knows that we do.

KDOT has once again proven that it doesn't belong in the same sentence with the phrase "makes sense." Get involved with the public comment on this newest "preferred alternative." Let KDOT know loud and clear it's time to do what's right -- build the new road a mile east of U.S. 59 and save $11 million.

In these budget-tightening times, it makes even more sense.

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