Thursday, August 22, 2019

Southeast Kansas Local Consult Summary

No matter what happens in the future, we need to make sure Kansans can travel safely.

While there were many issues discussed at the Southeast region’s Local Consult Round 1:  Visioning Transportation Futures meeting on Wednesday, participants made it clear that finding ways to improve safety should be a top priority and they were open to multiple approaches for how to do so.

“The city of Caney believes that passing lanes are alternatives that need to be considered.”
-        Fred Gress, City Administrator for the city of Caney

About 155 Southeast Kansans, the largest crowd this week, participated in a scenario planning exercise and provided input on how transportation investments could best serve their communities in the future.  There was a noticeable pragmatism and collaborative spirit among participants.  For example, they noted that while 4-lane highways are ideal, it’s not always fiscally feasible to expand highways and pointed out that constructing passing lanes or adding/expanding shoulders can improve highway safety at a much lower cost. These approaches will allow for more needs to be met across the region, they noted.

Similar to previous local consult meetings this week, Southeast Kansans stressed the importance of expanding broadband access across the state.  However, they added that cell phone reception in the region needs to be improved too.   

To address growing concerns with resiliency of our transportation system, attendees noted that recent weather events have opened consideration for a new approach for rebuilding infrastructure. Participants noted the challenge of resources if we keep rebuilding in the same places that are continually flooded, for example.

 “If we keep having flooding on the same roads, why do we keep rebuilding them in same place?”
-Chanute Resident

As they worked through three distinct future scenarios, participants noted that collaboration between urban and rural areas would be important in any scenario.  While rural and urban areas may have different challenges or expectations – they need to work together for our state to move forward successfully, participants stressed.

They also noted that while technology will bring new opportunities - such as to telework – that will not be feasible for every profession.  In particular, hands-on jobs that provide essential services, like road construction and electricians, will still exist and need to be factored into decision-making too, they said.  And many important components of the region’s economy are location specific, such as construction aggregates or oil and gas, which should be accounted for when making future investments.

One future scenario places an emphasis on regional hubs (smaller cities) in rural areas and participants saw a lot of value in making investments in hubs.  They noted, though, that hubs should not strictly be defined by retail as there are other smaller hubs that provide a lot of value to the region’s economy. For example, Sedan, while not a major retail center, serves a lot of traffic related to the oil and gas industry in the area.  They noted that areas that serve natural resources will always be important and the State should prioritize the routes needed to transport those materials to markets.

The conversation was not limited to highways as several people voiced support for short-line rail networks and mentioned that they can play a valuable role in reducing the toll heavy trucks can place on our highways.  Participants also voiced support for the new transload facilities in the state and that they’d love to see more of these facilities across the state.  

When making modal investments, they stressed the importance of prioritizing services that allow people to access jobs.  This is critical for growing the economy and allowing more young, talented Kansans to be able to stay in or return to their hometowns.

Many participants remarked that they’ve missed regular local consult meetings with KDOT, they appreciate the opportunity to provide input and look forward to the next round of local consult later this year.

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