Wayne White | Managing Editor
LYNDON—Osage County residents appeared unified in support
for improvement of two highways in the county during a public meeting
last week at the Osage County Courthouse.
Citizens were invited to the meeting to express opinions on improvement
projects proposed for state Highway 31 east of Osage City and U.S.
Highway 75 from Carbondale to Lyndon. The two projects were selected
from 175 projects proposed, and identified in the top tier of 25
projects, following Kansas Department of Transportation’s
2009 local consultation meetings. The projects are proposed as for
possible inclusion in the 10-year, $8.2 billion T-Works program
approved by Kansas Legislature in May.
Initially, $1.7 billion is to be spent on major highway expansion
and modernization projects, with $500-$800 million spent in the
northeast region of the state. Funding for the projects is not expected
to be available until 2013.
The K-31 project, representing seven miles of the example package,
is estimated to cost $13 million, and would add shoulders to the
highway from Osage City to the K-31/U.S. 75 junction. The U.S. 75
project would create 13 miles of either a four-lane freeway or expressway
at a cost of $84 million or $66 million, respectively.
Osage County Commissioner Mike Pruitt told the approximately 50
people gathered in the courtroom Sept. 29 that “we’re
here to gather concerns of the citizens” and that input would
be presented during another regional local consultation meeting
Oct. 22 at Kansas City.
“It’s important for communities to get together behind
these projects,” said Clay Adams, KDOT District 1 engineer.
He said the amount of funds is limited and KDOT is prioritizing
projects that will have regional economic benefits.
“The ones that will get selected will affect a region,”
He said Osage County and its communities “have done the right
things up to this point,” by setting up last week’s
meeting and having representatives at the previous local consultation
“You’ve got your projects in the hat, so to speak,”
he said. “The next step is to show public support remains
for these projects.”
He said projects should be selected by spring to allow time for
engineering. Selected projects will be constructed between 2013
“Having two projects in Osage County make the list is fantastic,”
said Osage City Manager Nick Hernandez.
Hernandez attended the meeting with a large contingent of Osage
City residents, business owners, and council members, most who expressed
support for widening K-31 to improve safety along the seven-mile
That support was echoed by state Sen. Anthony Hensley and state
Rep. Willie Prescott.
“I agree about Highway 31,” Hensley said. “I think
it’s imperative the people of Osage City have a safer highway
leading into town.”
Prescott said he and Hensley would be lobbying Kansas Transportation
Secretary Deb Miller to fund the Osage County projects.
“Whatever needs to be done, we’re going to do,”
Most of those speaking at the meeting agreed K-31 needed safety
“I invite anyone to come help me change a tire on (Highway)
31,” said Scott Farmer, an Osage County deputy.
Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn said any incident that happens
along that highway requires extra personnel at the scene to direct
“I have real concerns over 31 Highway,” she said.
Wide loads on the highway also impede traffic, noted Quintin Robert,
mayor of Osage City and president of local house manufacturer KanBuild.
“We take a house down (Highway) 31 every week,” Robert
Casey Mussatto, of beer distributor Mussatto Brothers, Inc., said
his trucks travel 250,000 miles annually, including the stretch
“That seven miles scares me more than any other highway,”
Mussatto also said the highway turns away potential business recruitment
for the city.
“We’ve got an attitude for growth, but we’ve got
a terrible highway,” he said.
Stephanie Watson, Osage County economic development director, said
the K-31 project fit the criteria for selection in the highway program.
“We can easily demonstrate on (Highway) 31, safety and economic
development,” Watson said.
In discussion of U.S. 75 improvements, safety issues were also highlighted,
with Dunn saying most accidents on that highway occur north of Lyndon,
in the stretch proposed for improvement.
A consensus about which improvements should be made to U.S. 75 was
not as evident, though.
Hernandez spoke about the possibility of adding passing lanes to
the two-lane stretch of U.S. 75 as a way to save money for the state.
“The cost of a four-lane road is significantly higher than
passing lanes,” Hernandez said. He added that passing lanes
would require less right of way acquisition and also lessen congestion
on the highway.
Hernandez said that constructing a new bridge over Dragoon Creek
to accommodate a four-lane road would cost more than the entire
proposed K-31 project. After the meeting, KDOT officials confirmed
that construction of a new bridge was included in the U.S. 75 cost
Farmer said he was opposed to passing lanes because drivers did
not know how to use them.
“If you’re going to do it, a four-lane is the way to
go,” Farmer said.
All seemed in agreement that economic benefits could be achieved
with either project, but U.S. 75 would have more regional impact.
“I think the U.S. 75 project is a project that affects Kansas,”
Other speakers expressed concern about the amount of right of way
that would be needed for the U.S. 75 project.
“I can’t support something if you can’t tell me
where you’re going to put it,” said Scott Hamlet, of
Adams said the projects would not be designed until they are selected
and he could not answer questions about rights of way.
Adams wrapped up the meeting noting that support from businesses,
communities, school districts, and citizens will help the ranking
of the Osage County proposals, specifically pointing to the economic
“That kind of information would set that project out ahead,”
Watson and Pruitt are to compile the comments and information collected
during last week’s meeting and present it during an Oct. 22
local consult meeting in Kansas City.
According to Kimberly Qualls, KDOT public information officer, attendees
of the local consult meeting will be randomly assigned to breakout
groups, which will rank the projects. That list will be presented
to KDOT staff for final selection before spring.
She said the selection process being implemented is different than
that done in the past, and has encouraged regional outlook.
“We’ve seen a lot of counties and cities working together,”
Qualls said last week. “It’s great because it’s
bringing people together to discuss regional impact. That’s
something we don’t usually see.”
The public is welcomed and encouraged to attend the local consult
meetings, although KDOT officials said the amount of a region’s
representatives will not affect the outcome of the meetings.
The northeast region meeting at Kansas City will be 9 a.m. to noon
Oct. 22, at the National Guard Armory, 100 S. 20th St.