Commission selects County Road 1 route to turnpike
County still sees funding as stumbling block; group to lobby Congressional delegation soon
The Leavenworth County Commission's choice last week of County Road 1 as the access road to a planned turnpike interchange is "huge," according to Tonganoxie Mayor Dave Taylor.
"This project is huge," the mayor said following the decision.
Last Thursday, on a 2-1 vote, county commissioners selected the county road to connect Kansas Highway 32 and U.S. Highway 24-40 to the planned interchange.
Tonganoxie officials were on hand, lobbying for the selection of the county road, as opposed to a cross-country route.
And several people who live near the proposed interchange argued that access to the turnpike wasn't necessary and that it would ruin the rural nature of that portion of the county.
But with Commissioner Don Navinsky dissenting, Commissioners Dean Oroke and Clyde Graeber approved the access road. Navinsky said he is not opposed to the turnpike interchange, but said he preferred the cross-country route, estimated to cost up to $3.5 million less, to County Road 1.
And all three commissioners acknowledged selection of an access road is only one step in making a turnpike interchange a reality. One major stumbling block -- money -- stands in the way.
Later this month, a delegation from Leavenworth County, including two Tonganoxie city officials, will travel to Washington, D.C., to ask for federal officials' help in securing funds to improve County Road 1 between K-32 and 24-40.
"The cost is greater than we anticipated it being," Graeber said. ''... I'm willing to commit $6 million to $7 million for this project, which leaves us short."
The funds that Graeber is willing to commit will come from the countywide half-cent sales tax. The county plans to finance other projects through that tax.
And while money is an issue, Graeber, who chairs the county commission, said he it was important to send the message that the county is looking for ways to proceed with the interchange.
Under an offer from the Kansas Turnpike Authority, the KTA would build the interchange, if the county upgrades the road connecting to the toll road.
Graeber asked the Tonganoxie mayor if the city were willing to pay part of the costs of upgrading County Road 1.
"This is a council matter," Taylor said. "I think the council would make the right decision about putting the city in debt."
But he said the council has taken no votes on providing any money for the access road.
Tonganoxie officials urged the selection of County Road 1 -- instead of constructing a new, cross-country route -- because the owners of Tailgate Ranch have said they're interested in developing their land and in having it annexed into the city of Tonganoxie. But that offer was contingent on selection of County Road 1 as the access road.
"We got out ahead on this because of some development potential that was indicated to the city of Tonganoxie along the County Road 1 route," City Administrator Mike Yanez told county commissioners.
He said the city is working with the county and Leavenworth Area Development to explore financing options for the upgrade of County Road 1.
And he said that other area cities -- as well as Douglas and Johnson counties -- are watching to see what happens with the turnpike interchange.
"We feel it would serve the region, as well as Leavenworth County," Yanez said.
Tonganoxie City Council president Velda Roberts said she believes the connection to the turnpike will spur development of businesses.
"I think you find the greatest tax relief when you're providing commercial and industrial development in the area," she said.
And she said she hopes development of the County Road 1 corridor can be accomplished employing "smart growth."
"Urban sprawl has been a problem, and, hopefully, we've learned from part of that," she said.
And Chris Donnelly, a Tonganoxie resident representing the economic development group Leavenworth Area Development, agreed.
"I think it's important that we plan for the growth, rather than try to stop it," he said.
Among those speaking against the turnpike interchange at Thursday's meeting was Bob Dally, 23351 DeHoff Drive. He said the county has not been upfront about the costs associated with connecting to the turnpike. And he said the city of Tonganoxie would incur costs for extension of water and sewer lines to the Tailgate Ranch area.
"People can't pay their taxes now," he said. "My taxes have gone up 110 percent in the eight years since I put my house in. ... You can't afford this. We can't afford this. Tell the people the truth."
change not positive
And Lindsey Blancarte lives at 22800 Woodend Road, which is a quarter-mile from the proposed interchange. She said development of the area would have a negative effect on many people's lives.
"All that this would be doing is turning it into a Johnson County," she said.
She said people who live in the area appreciate its small-town atmosphere. And she urged county commissioners to "leave the small-town atmosphere the people moved there for."
Julie Hershey Downes agreed.
"You might as well go back and live in Johnson County," said Downes, 13462 222nd St. ''... I think there's been a lot of dismay over the fact that this is a benefit for Tonganoxie, rather than all of Leavenworth County."
And she said she was concerned about how Eudora would handle additional traffic generated by the turnpike interchange.
"The traffic has to go somewhere," she said. "We have to think about the residents of Eudora."
Taylor said he's talked with the mayor of Eudora about the project.
"He's wished us nothing but the best," Taylor said.
Taylor said that he wants to ensure the city is a good neighbor to other cities -- and to rural Leavenworth County residents.
"I believe, in the future, when the city does annex, after we go through a lot of soul-searching on the council and making sure we're moving the city in the right direction, we will invite the people who object to County Road 1 to the meetings, and they will have an impact on the process," Taylor said. "They're important to us, and they're our neighbors, and we should treat them well."
Commissioner Dean Oroke said he looked at the connection to the turnpike in the same way he views the expansion of 24-40 from two lanes to four lanes between Wyandotte County and Tonganoxie.
"I think, as we look back over the past 12 to 14 years, we see that going to the four-lane highway has had a very positive impact on southern Leavenworth County," he said.
Oroke also noted that developers in the city of Tonganoxie are responsible for sewer and water lines, roads, sidewalks and parks within their developments.
"With all those borne by the developer, there's not much cost to the city, except maybe a main extension from the city to that site," he said.
Oroke's motion to adopt County Road 1 as the access road passed 2-1. The motion said that County Road 1 would be used between K-32 and Honey Creek Road. At Honey Creek, the motion said, engineers would have to determine how best to build the final leg to U.S. Highway 24-40.
"The intersection of Kansas Avenue will probably have to be reconfigured or closed, to avoid that dangerous intersection as it is today," Oroke said.
More steps ahead
And despite his vote against County Road 1, Navinsky said, "I think it's wonderful we've made a decision to go forward."
And Graeber cautioned that many steps must be taken before construction could begin on either the access road or the turnpike interchange.
"What happens if the money doesn't come forward -- then the project doesn't proceed," he said. '' ... This issue is far from being resolved, I can assure you of that. There's going to be a lot more discussion and debate, and certainly a challenge for Leavenworth County in the future."
And now, Tonganoxie's mayor said, the work continues. The city administrator and council member Jason Ward will travel to Washington later this month. They'll carry with them letters of support for the turnpike interchange. And they'll have their hands out, in hopes of catching a few federal dollars to help pay for the County Road 1 work.
"You never get too old to ask for help," Taylor said. "We would like to have their help on this project."
Taylor said he believes the people who are working on the turnpike interchange are pioneers.
"It's really a bold move on the part of the city of Tonganoxie," he said. "This is the biggest thing since the fort was created. That was a long time ago. ... It is exciting times, and I love our pioneers here."