By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
GALENA, Kan. —
Citing concerns about future economic development in Cherokee County, Galena Mayor Dale Oglesby and Quapaw Tribe Transportation Consultant Alan Mauk met last week with Kansas officials to question plans for a proposed stretch of four-lane freeway.
The six-mile section, which is part of a regional corridor project to extend U.S. Highway 69 south to Interstate 44, is proposed as a four-lane freeway from the junction of U.S. 166 to Kansas Highway 26 south and east to the Kansas-Missouri state line. It is directly north of the northeastern corner of Oklahoma.
KDOT officials released a rough draft of the freeway with the public last fall. They plan to refine the design following engineering studies, traffic counts and input from local officials.
While the entire Southeast Kansas corridor project has been endorsed by many regional entities, from the Labette County Commission to Pittsburg State University to local chambers of commerce, there is one aspect of the six-mile section’s design that Oglesby and Mauk said they found challenging: A freeway allows access at interchanges only.
“We looked at it from the perspective of future development along the 166-400 corridor and noticed that there was a lack of access provided for future growth from the state line to just south of Four Corners,” Mauk said.
Oglesby said such limited access could have a negative effect.
“Our goal is to develop the area there. But the way the freeway would be, it would put people in a tunnel and shoot them over to Missouri. It would render economic development null and void,” he said.
A study of a similar project that took U.S. 400 north of Parsons showed that the highway had a $42 million impact on the economy through property taxes from new development, new business income and new jobs.
Oglesby said he favors a four-lane or five-lane highway, not a divided freeway, to allow developers to “set up shop.”
On Tuesday, he and Mauk outlined their concerns to Kan. Gov. Sam Brownback in Topeka, who arranged for them to meet in Pittsburg on Wednesday with Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King. Neither meeting was open to the media, but King issued a statement in response to a Globe request for an interview.
“I appreciate our discussion with Mayor Oglesby and Alan Mauk on Wednesday. KDOT will take their concerns into consideration as we move forward with the U.S. 166 expansion project in Cherokee County.”
Said Oglesby, after discussing his concerns with King and KDOT engineers: “We got assurances that they would consider improving access on the south end of the county.”
Mauk emphasized that KDOT has gone to great lengths to gain input from everyone on the plan. For two years, KDOT has worked with the Quapaw Tribe, Cherokee, Crawford and Labette counties, the cities of Baxter Springs, Columbus, Galena and Parsons, and a range of stakeholders to develop projects for the program.
“We really were pleased with his, first of all, meeting with us the next day, and then expressing his opinion that this was just a draft,” Mauk said of King. “He promised to look at it, work with us, to address our concerns.”
“It wasn’t like it was drawn in stone. It is a preliminary stab at coming up with a route that will then be further developed,” he said.
The project is to be funded through T-Works, Kansas’ 10-year, $8 billion transportation program. The scheduled start date for the section is September 2017. Including design and right-of-way acquisition, the Cherokee County portion of the project will cost $45 million.