Plan a trip from Great Bend to Hutchinson, and a few options will come up.
You can stick to K-96 and meander through Ellinwood, Chase, Lyons, Sterling and Nickerson, or go south toward St. John before you turn east and follow Fourth Ave. into Hutchinson. It’s also possible to cut off on Cleveland Street in Sterling and bypass Nickerson by taking Avenue V to Plum Street.
None of these is are ideal.
The Northwest Passage across central Kansas may forever remain as elusive as the golden city of Quivira that Coronado once sought. One piece of this seemingly mythological quest is a plan to realign K-96 from Nickerson to Sterling with a wider, safer highway. Shoulders and passing lanes aren’t too much to ask for.
This and other transportation projects have been promised for years, but our Legislature robbed Kansas Department of Transportation coffers to fund other things. Back in 2016, Bob Totten, vice president of the Kansas Contractors Association, said enormous cuts to Kansas road and bridge funding over recent years meant fewer construction jobs across the state.
“Yes, we can associate Kansas’s drop in employment with the oil and gas industry struggles, but we all know there is more to it, at least in our state,” Totten said. “More than $2.1 billion has been diverted from Kansas’ transportation program over the past six years, and money continues to be taken from our roads and bridges to fund the general budget. ... It is time our state leaders close the ‘bank of KDOT’ and realize the more they withdraw, the more Kansans will suffer.”
What has changed in 2018? In May, Governor Jeff Colyer signed a bill creating the Joint Legislative Transportation Vision Task Force. This group of legislators, industry representatives and local officials is evaluating current and future transportation needs, reviewing funding and will be making recommendations for the next 10 years and beyond. The Southwest Kansas meeting was held Oct. 11 in Garden City. Great Bend was represented at a task force meeting held Oct. 4 in Newton.
During the Newton meeting, Ron Seitz, director of engineering and design for KDOT, noted: “It is important to understand that our local system was not designed for the traffic and the situation we are in today. It was designed when our state looked a lot different. Most of our state developed in the early 1900s.”
These meetings are important because the task force will report its findings to the Legislature by January 31, 2019.
For too long the Kansas Legislature has been tripping and stumbling on the issue of improved roads. It’s time to make our next “road trip” an exciting trek into a better future.