Efforts of local and regional officials to secure improved highway transportation between here and Hutchinson have paid off, it was announced Tuesday.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced that the K-96 improvements between Hutchinson and Sterling are included in the next round of highway projects.
According to information from the Kansas Department of Transportation: “The projects include a $116 million improvement on I-235 at the Kellogg interchange and a four-lane reconstruction of U.S. 54 in Sedgwick County. Other work in the region will improve stretches of U.S. 54 in Kingman and Pratt counties, K-96 from Hutchinson to Sterling and U.S. 50 at Newton.”
The information from KDOT added that these projects will be good for the state: “The governor touted the economic benefits of the projects he is announcing this week.
“‘Not only will these projects enhance safety for Kansans and visitors to our great state, they also will create thousands of immediate jobs during construction,’ Gov. Brownback said. ‘And, more importantly, once completed they will provide the infrastructure needed to create long-term economic opportunities that will have a lasting impact on the Kansas economy. And that’s why I included the implementation of T-WORKS in my Road Map for Kansas.’
“The T-WORKS program was passed by the 2010 Legislature and is smaller than the 1989 and 1999 transportation programs when adjusted for inflation. Transportation Secretary Deb Miller said that while available funding limited the number and scope of projects, those being announced this week garnered public support in regional meetings.”
According to documents prepared earlier for KDOT, this state highway carries a huge amount of traffic and is just not up to standards. “The route does not meet current design criteria for elements such as roadway width, ditch side slopes and curve geometrics.
“Traffic volume varies along the route and is currently between 2,000 to 4,000 vehicles per day.
“Regional projections show that traffic demand on this portion of K-96 could increase to approximately 8,600 vehicles per day by 2035 which is beyond the capacity of the current K-96.”
Local officials traveled to the announcement on Tuesday. Great Bend has been supportive of this project since its inception, viewing it as part of the improvements needed to create a better highway connection between this area and Wichita.
City and county officials urged local business leaders to attend a meeting late last October to show that Barton County was supportive of the Reno County project.
City Administrator Howard Partington, who has been instrumental in supporting the Northwest Passage project to connect Wichita to I-70 via a diagonal that would run past Great Bend, said at the time, this project is at least an improvement over what currently exists.
While it is not what Partington and other city officials had sought for decades, he explained in October, it would be an improvement to the current route. “It’s better to get something than nothing,” he said.
Financial realties have changed a lot during the long period that Partington and other city staff members, elected officials and business leaders have worked to get a diagonal route directly from Great Bend to Wichita. That is simply no longer feasible. But this project will make this stretch better and that is something.
Barton, Rice and Reno counties rallied together to support inclusion of the K-96 improvement project for this next round of state highway programs.
When local officials were working on the October meeting, County Administrator Richard Boeckman explained that currently K-96 highway in this area is curvy, hilly and has very poor shoulders. He said it is “just not a very safe highway.”
Not only will the improvements announced by the governor on Tuesday make the route more efficient for people traveling between here and Hutchinson, and on to Wichita, but it will also be considerably safer.