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Dragstrip, 10th Street to see improvements
Council frustrated with dragstrip progress
The Great Bend City Council Monday night authorized agreements paving the way for improvements to the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip and a large portion of U.S. 56 (10th Street). But, there are delays in the dragstip project.

Long-needed improvements to the historic Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip and much of 10th Street are a step closer after the Great Bend City Council Monday night approved agreements paving the way for the projects. But, the racetrack will face unanticipated delays, delays that raised council concerns.

The council authorized Mayor Cody Schmidt to sign the cost-share agreements with the Kansas Department of Transportation for the work which totals over $3 million for both projects, of which KDOT will cover 75%. However, when it came to agreements with the city’s on-call engineering firm Professional Engineering Consultants of Wichita to design the projects, the council only OKed the 10th Street work at a cost of $123,000 without issue, but tabled action on the $96,700 for the dragstrip until the next council meeting after SCRA President Hank Denning voiced frustration with PEC. 

The total construction cost that KDOT will reimburse is $1,590,867 for the dragstrip and $1,461,028 for the road resurfacing totalling roughly $2.24, said Mabry. The city’s total share comes to $1.15 million, including engineering, design and inspection costs.

“We hoped to get (the track) done for this race season,” said Ben Mabry of with PEC. But, with slow-moving KDOT bureaucracy, “that’s not feasible.”

The plan now is to have the project ready for bidding by July with construction starting in the fall, Mabry said.

But, “the dragstrip needs repairs now,” Denning said. He recalled a meeting at the race facility with Mabry, National Rod and Custom Association officials and himself at which track design specs were discussed.

According to Denning, the NHRA provided all the details needed to construct the track to meet the association’s standards. And, he said local contractors noted they could do the work based on those guidelines.

“We’re going to spend $96,000 (on PEC designs) and I want to know what I am going to get for that,” Denning said. He has races scheduled and has to consider paying for short-term repairs that will be ripped up when the KDOT work begins.

However, “that is the basis for a design, not a design document,” Mabry said. If the city wants PEC to sign off on the project and do the work, it has to be done under the firm’s licensing requirements.

“The wheels of the KDOT move pretty slowly,” Mabry said. PEC can’t get started on any design work until KDOT has the signed agreements, and after that, there is a review process that can take months.

In the end, the council started to question PEC’s handling of the dragstrip. Council members felt there was some miscommunication between the city and PEC, which led some city officials to believe the NHRA specifications were sufficient to proceed with the project.

Mabry admitted the communication between his firm and the city had not been as clear as it should have been.

This prompted the tabling of the contract with the engineers for the strip.


In October 2019, Great Bend was awarded funding through KDOT’s new Cost-Share Program to perform a full-depth replacement of the entire SRCA drag strip track, plus mill and overlay a large portion of US-56 (10th St). For ease of management, KDOT separated the application into two separate projects and prepared draft agreements for both projects which were reviewed by city staff. 

Minor changes/clarifications regarding project timing and scope were requested by the city. KDOT agreed. 

Upon approval of the KDOT agreements, the next step was to authorize PEC to begin design, bidding, and administration services on the projects.  

In September 2019, council members approved the local funding for four Kansas Department of Transportation City Connecting Links Improvement Plan projects along 10th and much repairs at the drag racing facility. Under the cost-share arrangement with the state, the city will pony up 25% of the construction costs. Funds will come from money the city already has set aside for street construction and economic development, drawn from the city’s sales tax and left-over funds from other projects.

The dragstrip was to be finished by October 2020, while the 10th work is still about two years away.

The state money is coming from a one-time $50 million transfer from the State General Fund to the State Highway Fund approved by the The Kansas Legislature in 2018. The state is trying to catch up on projects that were underfunded.

This allowed the use of the funding on transportation projects, but only if cities and counties are willing to offer a match, city officials said.   

Candidate projects needed to include investments that provide transportation benefits and are not eligible for other KDOT programs. They projects received additional consideration if they support economic growth, aid in the retention or recruitment of business, or add value to a KDOT project.

The cost-share program provides financial assistance to local entities for construction projects that improve safety, leverage state funds to increase total transportation investment, and help both rural and urban areas of the state improve the transportation system.

Local officials felt the Great Bend projects fit all the criteria.

The Kansas Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force recommended this one-time infusion into the transportation budget. This is the same group, formed by the Legislature in 2018, that supported the continuation of the Northwest Passage project between Nickerson and Sterling.