This summer, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) came to Leavenworth to brief the county and cities on the results of their Northeast Kansas 5 County Regional Transportation Study, in which KDOT looked at transportation system management and travel demand. The two phase study has three goals: assess multi-modal transportation, assess and prioritize the needs of the region and develop strategies to address them. This meeting was about Phase I of the study. The five counties included in the study are Leavenworth, Douglas, Johnson, Miami and Wyandotte.
There are five basic trends KDOT determined are affecting transportation management and demand in the five county region: changing population, vehicle technology, increased telecommuting/flex hours, development patterns, and gas prices. They compared these trends to the projected necessary funding twenty years beyond the current T-Works program.
T-WORKS is the 10-year, $8 billion transportation program designed to preserve highway infrastructure, create jobs (175,000 jobs over the 10 years), and provide multimodal economic development opportunities across the state that was passed in 2010. T-Works made the $8 million promise to complete at least $8 million worth of projects in each Kansas county and last January 32 projects were moved ahead of their original timeline in order to accelerate $50 million worth of preservation projects to produce jobs ahead of schedule and to take advantage of low construction costs.
In the study, KDOT determined the area population that is aging needs ways to stay home and not drive so far or as much, and the younger population also wants to live closer to their place of employment and to be able to ride their bicycles or walk. Vehicle technology is producing more efficient vehicles and rush hour is changing because of the increase in telecommuting and the use of flexible hours.
The development patterns show that people are moving into core areas and do not like urban sprawl. Then of course, rising gas prices are a big factor resulting in more car pooling and less driving. As far as funding, KDOT explained that prior to the T-Works plan they talked to the communities of Kansas to get their input as to what each community wants or needs in its transportation plan and then ranked them accordingly. The KDOT priority list shows it would take $15 billion to pay for items that are "wish list" type projects, $6.9 billion to pay for "top tier" needs, and $5.7 billion for projects that already have funding or can be achieved with already available funding.
KDOT explained their policy considerations used in the study to assess the area needs. They were to manage existing road lanes before building new ones. If new lanes were to be built they were to be managed. They were to use new strategies for commute times such as allowing buses on the shoulder, park & ride sites and ride share programs. They were to correct any bottlenecks and expand their incident management programs to cut down on congestion. They were to enhance KDOT partnerships with counties and cities.
Page 2 of 2 - Projects for the Leavenworth County area included the bridge between Leavenworth and Missouri and K-7. You have probably noticed the T-Works sign on the bridge to Missouri. It is referring to an ongoing study of the bridge as to how best to develop it for the future. It needs to be widened so that it is not shut down when repairs are done, as we all recently experienced, and needs to tie into the city's future and ongoing development projects (a new National Guard Armory, the new Hotel, etc). KDOT explained that Missouri only has the money to do road maintenance right now, so no expansion or new projects such as work on the roads to the airport are currently possible. KDOT said that the study showed that K-7 needs to be a freeway with extensive intersection and access management. They are also looking at bicycle and pedestrian use for the future, especially on any bridges.
County officials asked questions during the meeting about several local transportation and infrastructure issues and proposed projects including K-5, the K-7/I-70 interchange and a possible outerloop/bypass in the County. KDOT explained that Kansas Highway 5 was not looked at in this study. The County and Lansing officials explained to KDOT that a study needs to be done on K-5 because its current condition is negatively affecting economic development. Lansing officials stated that businesses that choose to open in Leavenworth County need more and improved access to highways. KDOT stated that it would need more information because the only study done on K-5 to this point was a safety study years ago. KDOT stated that the K-7/I-70 interchange is an approved project under the current T-Works and is scheduled to start in May 2013, but T-Works is only funding the first few stages. KDOT also agreed to the request of the County Commission to run a scenario on an outerloop/bypass project from the intersection of County Road 1/I-70 to Metropolitan in Leavenworth, to determine if the proposal should be studied.
As the meeting came to a close, a KDOT representative explained to me that the State has funds set aside for projects that would help a new business decide to come to Kansas if access to infrastructure is what is stopping them. So if a business approaches a city or the state and says it is ready to open up shop in Kansas but access to the highways is stopping them, that T-Works already has funds built into the program. This is great information for economic development opportunities in our county and cities. For more information on the five county study and to track Phase II, go to 5countystudy.org.
Melanie Meier is the state representative for House District 41 in Leavenworth.