Archive for Thursday, July 14, 2005

KDOT unveils plan at Baldwin meeting

July 14, 2005

By George Diepenbrock

Landowners got a glimpse of the state's finalized plans Thursday to expand U.S. Highway 59 to four lanes from Lawrence to Ottawa.

Dozens of Douglas and Franklin County residents gathered at Baldwin High School, where Kansas Department of Transportation officials displayed several poster-sized maps that highlighted plans to shift a portion of the new highway east of the current road. The plans, totaling an estimated $207 million, would require right-of-way purchases by the state across several tracts of land.

While some people were unhappy with the way the plans would affect their land, most seemed content with the state's design. Newton McCluggage, who lives near the right-of-way that had been proposed in an earlier iteration of the highway plans, said the road designers had done a relatively good job of minimizing the impact of the project.

"There are always going to be some people who are affected, but they've done pretty good at putting these plans together," McCluggage said.

Howard Lubliner, the lead road designer for KDOT on the project, emphasized the importance of Thursday's meeting, which gave more precise information to landowners after months of speculation.

As onlookers huddled with and quizzed different members of the state's design team, Lubliner said he expected most residents wanted to know how much land the state would need to acquire through eminent domain, along with what new road access would exist from house to house.

That eminent domain power can make the appraisal and sale portion of highway projects especially stressful for landowners, said Sheri Caldwell, a real estate agent with Reece and Nichols in Baldwin who came to the event to see how the plans would affect clients.

"Just buying and selling real estate normally is stressful, but when you have someone who can just come in and take it, it becomes even more stressful," Caldwell said. "But they get paid very fairly for their land."

Lubliner said the forum also allowed for landowners to help the state by informing it of existing land and drainage conditions. He added that the shifting of the new four-lane project just to the east of the old two-lane highway would allow state motorists to use the old U.S. 56 as an access road.

"This facility should certainly be a lot safer than the existing facility," Lubliner said, citing increased sight distance and wide shoulders.

The four-lane portion will begin about 1.5 miles south of the Kansas Highway 10 and U.S. 56 intersection. As it will veer to the east of the original road initially, the new highway will return to the current location near the Zarco Station and remain on the current path as it enters Franklin County.

KDOT officials estimate the appraisal process, right-of-way purchases from landowners and utility relocation to begin in summer 2006, with construction targeted for early 2008.

-- Staff writer Jay Senter contributed to this report.

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