It's a project that most agree would have a regional benefit, but faces long odds in the short term ― a four-lane outer loop freeway through much of the western portion of the Kansas City metropolitan area.
But for a meeting about the idea Friday morning in Leavenworth, State Rep. John Bradford, R-40th Dist., gathered a list of attendees that included Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Mike King and members of the governmental administrations for Johnson, Platte and Wyandotte counties alongside local governmental and business leaders.
The proposed loop stems from the conclusions of KDOT Five County Regional Transportation Study, which included Douglas, Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami in addition to Leavenworth counties. A conceptual drawing of the loop would intersect with U.S. 73 in northern Leavenworth, near the Centennial Bridge, and head south through the western side of both Leavenworth and Johnson counties and then east back into Missouri.
Bradford himself admitted that completing the bypass would not be an easy task ― he said even the proposed route was mostly a preliminary guide. But calling the meeting together was a way to get the conversation started officially.
“We've discussed this on an informal basis,” he said. “Today, we do it with a large group of all of us and the folks who are in this room are decision makers and the people who can affect decisions and can make this a reality. We can take it off the drawing board from 2040, 2050 and make it a reality in the next two to three years and get this thing on the road.”
Kansas transportation officials were more cautious. Early estimates for the complete buildout of the bypass loop start at about $2 billion. And Mike King, Kansas secretary of transportation, said while the project seems worthy of study, KDOT already has billions allocated to other projects in its comprehensive T-WORKS transportation plan.
“This is not something that we don't have in our 10-year program,” he said.
Perhaps the most important development to drive support of the project is the impending opening of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad intermodal facility and logistics park scheduled for the fall.
Deputy Kansas Transportation Secretary Jerry Younger said that facility could send about 7,500 semi trucks daily through the Kansas City metropolitan area. About 1,500 of them would be headed out of the region either on Interstate 35 or Interstate 29. Another 4,000 could be sent over Interstate 70, Bradford said.
“It's nightmarish,” he said of the potential problems in downtown Kansas City as a result of the added traffic. “We don't want to see that happen. But considering that Edgerton will come online, this now becomes a real feasible option.”
According to Dick Gibson, executive director of the 27 Committee, an organization that attempts to bolster economic development for Fort Leavenworth, said the region stands to gain from the accessibility that such an outer loop would provide. He said the combined economic impact of both Fort Leavenworth and the Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center is roughly $4.6 billion a year, a benefit that diffuses to both sides of the state line. Future possibilities include a new prison on the grounds of the U.S. Penitentiary here, a new headquarters for the 35th Infantry Division of the Kansas Army National Guard and, if the federal government moves ahead with a Base Realignment and Closure commission in 2015 as recommended by the White House, addition of entities like the Army War College or the Sergeant Major's Academy currently housed at other military installations to Fort Leavenworth. The outer loop could aid in that.
Page 2 of 2 - “We want to set conditions so that economic development can take place,” Gibson said.
Younger said though the outer loop was included in the Five-County Study as a priority, it was not particularly high on that list. But unlike T-WORKS, he said that could shift, and Johnson County, for one, has expressed interest in doing so.
“If there's some support, widespread in what has been the five-county area here, to go back and look at it, certainly we would consider that,” he said.
King also said that, with the recent addition of administration over the toll-funded Kansas Turnpike to his duties, he is willing to look into funding at least part of the project with tolls.
For now, Bradford suggested the parties represented take the information back to their peers and called for another meeting in mid-October.
“Let's see how the world has changed, how the situations have changed,” he said.