There’s a need for planning, collaboration and policy changes to build the future we want.
A future transportation system should provide greater flexibility in decision-making, encourage partnerships and deliver more mobility options for everyone. Those were the key themes that emerged the Northeast region’s Local Consult Round 1: Visioning Transportation Futures meeting on Monday in Topeka.
Community leaders from cities large and small stressed the importance of increasing connectivity by investing in pedestrian and bike paths. The need for greater walkability in communities is critical both for allowing current citizens to access more services and for attracting new residents to Kansas, participants said.
“We want to be part of the solution, when it comes to alternatives for transportation. If someone doesn’t want to drive somewhere in our town, we don’t want them to have to.”
- Leslie Herring, Assistant to the City Manager for the City of Eudora
Julie Steward, a Lawrence resident, spoke about how often transit services are often focused on the elderly, but increasing mobility is critical for all Kansans, especially for those in wheelchairs.
(Accessibility) “is something that is important today. This is an issue in everyone’s life if you want a community that is integrated.”
- Julie Steward, Lawrence resident
About 210 Kansans participated in discussions about the transportation needs of their communities both today and in the future. Recognizing that funding is limited, participants were practical and offered suggestions for how to make more incremental improvements at less cost. Curt Niehaus, director of public works for Shawnee County, while advocating for the expansion of K-4 in Shawnee County, referenced the importance of phasing for projects. For example, he said that constructing a 2-lane highway on a 4-lane right-of-way would serve as an immediate improvement at less cost than a 4-lane freeway while also allowing for future growth in the next phase.
Participants also noted that state and local partnerships were important for stretching transportation dollars. For example, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce indicated its support for local contribution to help complete the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Like the previous local consult meetings, participants were concerned about traffic safety. They noted that many communities in the northeast region are growing quickly and that increased traffic creates more safety concerns. For highways, they mentioned adding shoulders or passing lanes can be effective for improving safety at less cost. Safety concerns also extended to areas with highway pedestrian traffic near major roadways.
As they worked through three distinct future scenarios, participants emphasized the importance of regional collaboration. That included being proactive in making investments in regional hubs and by being able to deliver seamless trips regardless of the mode of transportation.
“We think it’s important to talk about aligning priorities. We want to talk about aligning KDOT’s regional transportation system and our local economic development priorities such as access to downtown from I-70.”
- Jason Peek, Public Works Director for the City of Topeka
No matter the future scenario, participants stressed the importance of workforce development. That included ensuring we are generating enough job opportunities for our citizens and that we’re providing the right education and training to serve those jobs. They also noted that if changing weather patterns encourage more migration to Kansas from coastal cities in the future - those people could bring new talents and ideas that the State should take advantage of for economic development.
And these potential new residents may also have increased mobility expectations, which will be important for the State to meet in order to attract those people.
Finally, participants stressed the importance of having proper planning to ensure smart growth or smart shrinkage depending on what the future holds. Or as one group said, as communities shrink or grow, we need to make smart investments.