‘Lets get this done already’
Highway expansion coming to fruition
Casey Matlock | reporter
An expansion project for U.S. Highway 69 is under way for Southeast Kansas.
The four-lane highway currently transitions to two lanes immediately south of Fort Scott.
The two-lane portion of the road is known to clog with traffic during days when large groups of students are arriving from or departing for academic vacations.
The road has been historically recognized as a vital corridor for the area that has seen instances of danger and other problems.
Deadly wrecks on U.S. 69 are referenced as having occurred with some frequency in the book Pittsburg State University: A Photographic History of the First 100 Years, published by the university in 2009.
Accidents still occur from time to time, many of them due to driver error on the two-lane highway during over-takes and other maneuvers, according to records published by the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Menghini in the loop
The road will be expanded through Pittsburg in the near future, says Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, of the Kansas State Assembly’s House of Representatives.
Menghini says the expansion will retain the highway’s current structure south of Fort Scott as an expressway, rather than a freeway.
As a result, there will be no interchanges. Motorists will continue to cross directly at multiple places rather than pass over or under the road, such as the freeway structures north of Fort Scott.
These plans follow several recent changes, including a 2011 increase in the speed limit of the highway to 75 miles per hour, up from 65.
That change affected the road from north of Fort Scott to the southern limit of Overland Park and is welcomed by students.
“I’ve been (driving) Highway 69 for … six years,” said Caroline Barto, senior in psychology. “It’s kind of a boring drive, because all there is to see are fields. But it’s only an hour-and-a-half to two hours of driving because of
No traffic cones just yet
The project has been discussed in various public forums for years.
Menghini successfully campaigned to return to the Kansas State Assembly last fall, after she lost re-election in 2010.
The topic came up during a debate held on campus on Oct. 3, 2012, between Menghini and opponent Michelle Hucke.
“Have you seen any of these?” Hucke asked the debate’s audience while holding up an orange construction cone. “No? Why not? Let’s get this done already.”
Menghini says that now she has had time in office to lobby for the project, plans are nearly finalized.
Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, says the project will ultimately create a straight four-lane connection from the northeastern end to the southeastern end of the state.
It could cost between $800 million and $1 billion.
Funding will be allocated from sales taxes, fuel taxes and a separate budget from the Kansas Department of Transportation, Benson says.
“In six to 10 years, we could have a highway from Pittsburg to Kansas City,” he said. “It is a lot of small projects overall in different stages, but this would provide a safer route for students … along with a more convenient way of transferring goods between businesses. This could open up a lot of possibilities.”
George Ockery, area engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation, says the only current holdup is funding.
“Plans are 75-95 percent complete and some are still on the shelf waiting to be funded,” he said. “This is a very expensive project; approximately $10 million for one mile.”
Money almost there
Ockery says this is one reason current plans have been divided into phases. The first phase, which will extend the four-lane highway to Arma, is fully funded.
“Our plans are to use what is left over from the building of the funded plans to spend on the newer projects,” Ockery said.
Ockery added that U.S. Highway 47 will be joined with a junction to U.S. 69 before the expansion is complete. Extra funding from the state government will by then be forthcoming.
Holly Garretson, junior in biology, says that she believes the expansion can’t come too soon.
“I like how U.S. Highway 69 is a straight shot from Overland Park to Pittsburg,” Garretson said, “although the one-lane highway is terrible to drive because you get stuck behind slow drivers.”