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November 13th, 2019

9 20 18 joint meeting part 2Kansas 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis talks about the recently formed state vision transportation task force at the Sept. 13 joint meeting. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories dealing with the Sept. 13 joint meeting between the Liberal City Commission, the county commission, the USD 480 Board of Education, the Seward County Community College Board of Trustees, the Southwest Medical Center Board of Trustees and the Liberal Chamber of Commerce.

With funding for and continued repairs to the state’s highway system an ongoing issue, last session, the Kansas Legislature established a transportation vision task force, which 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis said has a mission with many items.

“The mission of the task force is to evaluate the progress of the 2010 Transportation Works for Kansas program to date, evaluate the current system condition of the state transportation system, including roads and bridges, to evaluate the current uses of state highway fund dollars, including fund transfers for other purposes outside of infrastructure improvements, identify additional necessary transportation projects, make recommendations regarding the needs of the transportation system over the next 10 years and beyond, make recommendations on the future structure of the state highway fund as a way to maintain the state infrastructure system,” he said.

Francis spoke at the recent joint meeting of several local boards about the transportation committee made up of four representatives, four senators and numerous stakeholders across Kansas, totaling around 36 members

“So far, we’ve had four meetings,” he said. “We had one in Topeka, one in Salina, Kansas City. The next meeting next week is going to be in Pittsburg.”

Locally, several Seward County commissioners, along with Liberal City Manager Calvin Burke, Seward County Administrator April Warden and Liberal Area Coalition for Families Director Sarah Foreman, have started meeting to put together goals for local highway projects to present at a transportation committee meeting Oct. 11 in Garden City with officials from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Francis said the next meeting of the local group to prepare testimony was scheduled to take place Sept. 14, the day following the joint meeting.

He said some Kansas towns, including some urban communities, have found ways to cut costs for their local government entities.

“What the City of Topeka is doing is their transit system is being used to bus the kids to the schools,” he said. “It saves a heck of a lot of money for the school district. It helps their ridership numbers.”

Leaders from Southwest Kansas made a presentation during the legislature’s last session regarding the area’s transportation needs. Francis praised the work of those who gave testimony.

“Our presentation last session has blown away almost any of the presentations we’ve received so far today,” he said.

Currently, Francis said, there are several things area leaders need to push for in the transportation field.

“We need to push for completion of the second and third phases of Highway 54 four lane,” he said. “The transitions right now are dangerous as you go out to the one section that we got done. I think we’re going to be really successful in selling that message.”

Francis said one of the significant risks on Highway 54 lies in Seward County near Southwestern Heights High School, one of the big pieces of road between Liberal and Pratt. He said he has reached out to leaders in neighboring Meade County to get input.

Francis later talked about Salley Road, stressing the value of having roads connected to the major highways of Southwest Kansas.

“I think it’s very important for us to have specific places where we can interface with the state highway system,” he said. “I think we feel like there’s some need for improvements.”

While most would like to have major highways with four lanes, Francis said another possibility needs to be considered, namely that of practical improvements.

“Practical improvements are shoulders, they’re passing lanes,” he said. “Next year, when we talk about this, I’m going to make sure we have pots of money for practical improvements. Even if we can’t get some of this four lane like we want it to be done, I still want to make sure we get passing lanes where it’s possible, and I think KDOT’s looking towards that a little bit.”

Overall, Francis said he wants members of the transportation committee to encourage KDOT to make realistic improvements at the Oct. 11 meeting in Garden City.

“I’ve had a lot of constituents be concerned about the overpass that’s halfway between Sublette and Garden,” he said. “That costs somewhere around $26 million, and we could’ve had a lot of passing lanes between Liberal and Garden for $26 million. I think that’s the message we’ll try to pass along to KDOT when they’re here.”

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