Tuesday, August 20, 2019

South Central Kansas Local Consult Summary

Let’s make the future work for all of us.

In an uncertain future, the path forward will require us to think regionally, invest multimodally and preserve our infrastructure. 

Those were the key themes that emerged from the South Central region’s Local Consult Round 1:  Visioning Transportation Futures meeting on Tuesday.  About 85 Kansans participated in a scenario planning exercise, and provided input on how transportation investments could best serve their communities in the future.

Participants demonstrated the value of regionalism often by voicing support for projects in communities outside of their own.  And they spoke about the need for future transportation investments to be fair to both urban and rural areas. They also referenced the T-WORKS projects that were delayed due to revenue losses and their desire to see these projects completed as promised. 

“You can’t bring new businesses to the State, if you don’t have a transportation system in good shape."
– Suzanne Loomis, City Engineer & Director of Public Works for the City of Newton

There was strong recognition that because transportation funding will always be limited, state and local leaders must work together to prioritize needs.  For example, Winfield City Manager Taggart Wall spoke about the need for the West Winfield Bypass.  He indicated originally the project was estimated to cost about $79 million according to KDOT.  However, upon further discussion and evaluation, the community has proposed  a smaller improvement, which could still meet their most pressing needs.  The new, proposed project is slated to cost less than half the original estimate, about $30 million, and will still support the growth in the city.

“Our funding sources rely on traditional models, which are rapidly changing.”
– Joseph Turner, City Administrator for the City of Sedgwick

As they worked through three distinct scenarios about possible futures for Kansas, participants noted that expanding broadband access would be critical in any scenario.  And while there may be uncertainty around how technology will impact our lives going forward– ensuring that all Kansans are better connected to the digital economy should be a top priority of the State, the participants said.

“What’s going to happen as drones become more and more user-friendly?”
– Glenna Borho, Pratt County Commissioner

Expanding mobility is about more than improving highways in south central Kansas.  Many stakeholders referenced the need for investments in transit, rail, aviation and bike/pedestrian improvements.  They mentioned the importance of transit services that allow people to access medical facilities and how offering more bike and pedestrian routes will provide public health benefits.

The Kansans who attended Tuesday’s event also voiced strong support for prioritizing highway preservation in the future.  The challenge for maintaining infrastructure will not only be in our limited resources, but also because we may experience greater demands on our system due to extreme weather.  For example, participants noted that K-14 south of Sterling was closed for multiple weeks this summer due to flooding.  The potential impacts of extreme heat or flooding on our roads and bridges should be considered when making future improvements, they said.

Like their neighbors to the north at the previous day’s meeting, South Central Kansans were concerned about water availability in the future and how that could have enormous implications for where people could live and work.

Despite the uncertainty about the future, it was clear from the discussion that south central Kansans want the State to be proactive in delivering transportation projects and programs. 

Or as one person said better, “why should we wait for things to happen to us? It’s time to make things happen for us.”

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