On Windy Hill: Kansas highways follow the pull of money

Kansas Department of Transportation is hosting a public open house for the K-31 improvement project and the U.S. 75 and K-31/K-268 roundabout project in Osage County 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at Osage City Schools lunchroom, 420 S. Fourth St., Osage City.

Thursday night will be the second public open house KDOT has hosted to announce construction of the roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 75 and K-31/K-268. The first one was held in October 2011 when KDOT announced bids would be let for the project in spring of 2012.

When the roundabout was announced and during the planning stages to make the intersection safer, I supported the project because I have driven through that intersection twice a day practically every week day for about five years, and have seen many near misses and the aftermath of several collisions.

The project was initiated due to a loud call from the public to improve the intersection after the death of a young driver. KDOT showed that the best, most feasible solution to make the intersection safer is a roundabout.

There are those who still oppose the proposed solution, and everyone knows that an overpass at that intersection would have been the best solution if it had been built years ago when overpasses were cheap to build.

Unfortunately, back then, those with the pull weren’t able to pull the money in the right direction to get us an overpass at a busy intersection of two Osage County highways. Sometime in past years though, the money was pulled to the south end of the county on U.S. 75, when Melvern and “County Road” got overpasses and Olivet got a cloverleaf.

But which way the money is pulled has a lot to do with when projects are built or whether they’re ever built. KDOT’s re-announcement of a new start date for the roundabout probably had a lot to do with which way the money was pulled.

Local legislators have had a standing joke in recent years: During state budget making our department of transportation is referred to as the “KDOT bank”; legislators kid about robbing KDOT’s road rebuilding funds to fill gaps in other parts of the budget. What’s not so funny is that when money gets pulled away from road building, which was promised to taxpayers in the 10-year plan called T-WORKS, needed projects, such as the roundabout, get put aside until the money gets pulled the other way again.

To be fair, though, money isn’t the only thing that has delayed the roundabout project. It has undergone several redesigns to make the thing fit large trucks (let’s hope it’s now a good design), and acquiring right of way was still underway as of Monday. (There has been at least one crank occasionally bothering them about putting the commuter parking lot on the north side of the highway, instead of the south side, so it could be used as a trailhead for the Flint Hills Nature Trail. I don’t know if they listened to me.)

I heard someone complaining about all of the road construction going on right now in Osage County. I told them we should be happy we’re getting our roads fixed; we’ve got to take it when the money’s pulling in our direction.

At Thursday’s open house, anyone interested is invited to see displays and an overview of the roundabout project. Construction is now scheduled to begin in late fall 2013 with a completion date of fall 2014.

KDOT will also provide information on the K-31 Improvement Project, which is to reconstruct K-31 from the east city limits of Osage City east to the U.S. 75 and K-31/K-268 junction, including adding shoulders and flattening the hills along the stretch to improve safety and enhance passing opportunities.

Everyone who lives in, works at or drives to Osage City knows that road, like the roundabout intersection, needs improvement now and has needed it for years.

In the last announcement I heard, the K-31 project is slated to begin in 2017, seven years after the passage of T-WORKS.

It seems like a long time from now, and I wonder: When 2017 rolls around, will there still be enough money in the KDOT bank to redo K-31?

I guess we’ll have to wait to see who has the pull then.

See KDOT’s announcement of the open house here.


On Windy Hill, Wayne White sometimes writes about things he thinks about. He not only lives on a windy hill, he’s been known to be a windy writer.

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