Residents concerned about safety along turnpike connector road
Area residents continue to voice concern about the wisdom of using County Road 1 as an access road to the turnpike.
County commissioners have agreed to rebuild the road from U.S. Highway 24-40 to a proposed turnpike interchange on County Road 1. But no specific plans are in place to upgrade the county road between the turnpike and Kansas Highway 32.
And on April 10, area residents will talk with county commissioners about the proposed turnpike interchange -- specifically, improvements to Leavenworth County Road 1. The discussion will begin at 5 p.m. in the second-floor meeting room at the courthouse in Leavenworth.
Earlier this year, the Kansas Turnpike Authority agreed to build an interchange on Interstate 70 at County Road 1, about three miles south of Tonganoxie.
The agreement hinges on the county improving a three-mile stretch of County Road 1 to link U.S. Highway 24-40 to the turnpike. However, KTA is not requiring the county to improve the three-mile span of County Road 1 between the turnpike and Kansas Highway 32. And that concerns area residents who say it's crucial for the county to improve that section of County Road 1, as well.
Last Thursday, about 30 Leavenworth County residents, as well as two officials from Lawrence, met with Kansas Turnpike Authority board of directors.
Julie Downes, who lives on County Road 1 south of where the new turnpike interchange will be built, urged KTA not to sign a contract with the county until commissioners agree to improve County Road 1 south of the turnpike, as well as north.
"I hope you go up there and drive it once, and drive it at night too, it's not safe," Downes said. "The road is very narrow, there's minimal or no shoulders."
The road is not built to handle heavy traffic, Downes said.
"You couple that with rolling hills, you couple that with limited visibility and dangerous passing and couple that with farmers who are traveling down the road," Downes added.
Moreover, she said, the road is chip and seal.
"It has an inability to withstand heavy trucks," Downes said.
Downes noted that numerous homes are on that stretch of road.
"We've got kids along there and these kids are getting picked up by school buses," Downes said.
Downes said turnpike traffic would be entering and leaving the interchange from the south, as well as from the north.
"You've got trucks, you've got increased traffic," Downes said. "That's going to get picked up, so you've got all this traffic going 50 to 60 mph along this road, it's going to be dangerous. ... If you build it, they're going to come and they're going to come from the south," Downes said.
Downes said she understands the importance of a business, or a government entity, meeting the bottom line financially.
"But I don't understand a bottom line that's going to kill people," Downes added.
After Downes spoke, Mike Johnston, KTA president and CEO, read a letter from the three county commissioners that had been faxed to KTA that afternoon.
The letter said, in part:
"The board wishes to state to the KTA that the county has undertaken the preliminary engineering review necessary to address the safety concerns of the residents and to make the appropriate safety enhancements along that route. The county intends to make such improvements along the southern portion of County Road 1 so as to maintain a safe road system and enhance the economic viability of the interchange."
Johnston urged those present to take their concerns to county commissioners.
Jan Bernhardt, who lives on land adjacent to the proposed turnpike interchange, told Johnston that she, and others, already had spoken with county commissioners.
"We have talked to them repeatedly over the last year, but without much luck," Bernhardt said.
After the meeting, Kerry Holton, who lives on County Road 25 and farms along County Road 1, said, "If this thing is going to be built, they should be responsible enough to build it safely."
Holton said he was concerned because earlier, KTA had indicated the county should improve County Road 1 from 24-40 to K-32.
"Now we have this 180 reversal and we don't understand it," Holton said. "It's a horribly dangerous situation."
Billy Skeet, who farms land along County Road 1, said he understood, from preliminary drawings he'd seen that a turnpike flyway would be built on a piece of his ground that is south of the turnpike.
Skeet, who has farmed in the area all his life, said it's upsetting to think of the changes the interchange will introduce.
"Change just for the sake of change is not necessarily a benefit to anybody," Skeet said. "Most people came to Tonganoxie because they could get five to 10 acres, or 40, whatever, because they wanted privacy and they wanted peace and quiet, but it's not going to be that way now."
Lawrence City Commissioner David Schauner, who attended the meeting with Lawrence Mayor Boog Highberger, said he believed the proposed site for the interchange was the wrong one.
"I think that road significantly west of Eudora would help the Leavenworth County travelers, the Johnson County travelers and the Douglas County travelers," Schauner said.
He said he'd prefer having a connecting road to the turnpike about 3 1/2 miles west of Eudora, near Franklin Road.
"I want it to be a win-win for the KTA, a win-win for Leavenworth County and a win-win for Douglas County and for Lawrence," Schauner said. "And I don't think the current proposal satisfies that goal."
After meeting with KTA, Charles Benjamin, a Lawrence attorney representing the County Road 1 group, said, he still wanted to know why KTA shifted from requiring about six miles of improvements to County Road 1, down to three miles.
And, Benjamin said, "We're being again shuttled off to the Leavenworth County Commission."
He noted that Leavenworth County Road 1 runs from Tonganoxie to the Kansas River, just north of Eudora.
"If this interchange is that important, then they need to be fixing the road from Tonganoxie all the way to Douglas County," Benjamin said.
And, Benjamin said, KTA had previously indicated that about two-thirds of the traffic using the proposed interchange would be connecting with roads to the south. That would amount to a large increase in traffic on the south side of the turnpike, he said, adding that County Road 1 needs to be sufficiently improved before the interchange is constructed.
"Let's not get into a situation where we have deaths and injuries and then getting into fixing the road to prevent further deaths and injuries," Benjamin said.