K-7 a priority, lawmakers say
Upgrading the Kansas Highway 7 corridor is a priority of the Kansas Department of Transportation, area legislators promise Lansing and Leavenworth County officials.
"It's a big thing for them; it's a high priority," state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, told officials attending a breakfast Friday in Lansing. The breakfast, sponsored by the city of Lansing, brought together Lansing City Council and staff members, Leavenworth County commissioners-elect, area officials including Tonganoxie Mayor Dave Taylor and members of the area legislative delegation on the eve of the opening of the 2005 Kansas Legislature.
"This is one of their top priorities because of the traffic counts, the growth and the safety issues involved," Wilk said.
Wilk's comment came in response to a question by Lansing Mayor Kenneth Bernard, who wanted to know whether there was any way to move forward the state's timetable on the project, which would reconfigure K-7 as a freeway from Lansing to Olathe.
Though the Transportation Department has hired a consultant to work on studies of the corridor, no money has been earmarked for purchase of right of way or construction. Early estimates put the cost of the project around $250 million. The Transportation Department's tentative schedule has construction beginning after 2010.
"If you have five years of growth along that corridor, it's going to be difficult to do much," Bernard said.
Wilk, noting a two-year planning study still was being carried out, said transportation officials didn't want to put the cart before the horse by seeking funding before the study was completed.
"We might have some success (in gaining funding) once we get that master plan," he said.
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Dean Oroke, who took his seat Monday on the Leavenworth County Commission, asked whether the project could get a boost if the county put up some sort of local funding. Wilk's answer was a resounding yes.
"The local funding component has become a big deal in transportation. : For KDOT, it becomes a critical factor in what gets funded," he said.
Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth, told the gathering of the importance of local planning on the project. She urged city and county officials to work together to ensure development along the corridor is done in a quality manner.
"Look at Village West and how they've maintained quality development," Crow said, referring to the development around the Kansas Speedway in western Wyandotte County. "This community can be every bit as successful if you do it right."
Lynn McClure, executive director of Leavenworth Area Development, the public-private group that promotes economic development in the county, also urged cooperation among cities, the county and legislators.
"This is bigger than the corridor itself," McClure said. "The only way we're going to find success in this county is to cooperate."
Crow noted that legislators whose districts reach into Leavenworth County get together regularly during the legislative session to discuss issues of local importance. She and Wilk said they would work to devote one of those meetings to K-7.
Lawmakers also discussed other topics during Friday's breakfast. Among them:
¢ School finance: Wilk said the Legislature needed to take a step back in light of last week's Supreme Court ruling that found lawmakers weren't adequately funding the state's public schools. "I'm not interested in a solution that will work for a year or two, but one that will work for 10 or 20 years," he said. Added Crow, "It will be a huge struggle for the entire session."
¢ Crime: Roger Pine, newly elected to the 3rd Senate District, which includes parts of Leavenworth County, said he would cosponsor a bill he said was designed to crack down on illegal methamphetamine labs in Kansas. Designed after an Oklahoma law, it would require pharmacies to keep pseudoephedrine, a decongestant and a key ingredient in the production of meth, behind the counter, limit the amount of pseudoephedrine a customer can purchase and require customers to show identification and sign for the drug when they purchase it.
¢ Property taxes: Wilk said the Legislature probably would discuss some sort of property tax break for elderly homeowners. He said last year legislators discussed freezing property taxes at the current level for homeowners 65 and older. "You get about 1,000 reasons why you can't do that," he said.
¢ Casinos: Crow said a proposed compact between Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Sac and Fox and Wyandotte American Indian tribes to open a casino in Wyandotte County in exchange for a minimum $50 million annual payment to the state was going nowhere. "That's not anything I believe the Legislature is going to take up."
¢ Tax breaks for businesses: Wilk asked Lansing officials whether they'd be willing to sign an agreement with Leavenworth city officials to stop offering retailers tax breaks to locate in their community and develop a formula for splitting sales tax revenue generated by new retailers. As Lansing and Leavenworth continue to grow, he said, more and more national retailers are going to want to locate in the area. "My theory is they're going to get our business. That's enough. They don't need a tax break. They're playing communities against each other because communities are playing the game," he said. Lansing officials said the idea sounded reasonable but probably was impractical