Archive for Sunday, March 23, 1997

JEFFERSON COUNTY RESIDENTS FIGHTING HIGHWAY PLANS

March 23, 1997

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— A petition will be sent to Kansas congressmen asking them to help curtail plans to close ramps at U.S. Highway 24 and Kansas Highway 4.

When the alarm goes off at Kaw Township Fire Department here, firefighters have a direct route to dozens of homes and businesses to the north.

But plans to close a highway interchange will mean Chief Gayle Bickel and his crew will have to go several miles out of their way to reach a fire or accident, he said.

It will be the same story for police, ambulance, mail delivery and other services, area residents say.

"It's going to increase our response time significantly for some areas," Bickel said.

The Kansas Department of Transportation plans to close the intersection of U.S. Highway 24 and Kansas Highway 4, as part of a new highway project plan connecting East Topeka with the Kansas Turnpike.

A new, cloverleaf interchange will be built near the existing interchange.

But according to plans, it will mean that traffic from Grantville and other areas south of Highway 24 will have to go about a quarter- to half-mile east on 24, past the current U.S. 24/K-4 interchange, connect with the new highway and go north a few miles.

Vehicles would then have to head back south in order to reach the area northeast of the interchange.

Residents in the area, after unsuccessful attempts at changing KDOT's plans, are appealing to Kansas congressional representatives to keep the interchange open.

They have gathered more than 700 signatures on a petition and submitted letters of support from the Jefferson County Commission and Perry-Lecompton school board asking that the ramps at the highways be left open.

The signatures and letters were sent Friday to U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, and to U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun.

"The thing that we're saying is that there ought to be some kind of access," said Rex Rees, a resident who owns Rees Fruit Farm, located at the existing interchange.

"This is not just about us, it's going to be a problem for everyone who lives in this area."

KDOT's Plan

The new interchange is part of the Oakland Expressway, which eventually will connect Kansas Highway 4 to the Kansas Turnpike.

KDOT spokesman Ken Miller said that once the new cloverleaf interchange is built, it will be too close to the existing U.S. 24/K-4 interchange for traffic to merge safely.

"It's really a safety consideration," he said. "These two interchanges cannot be side by side," he said.

For example, he said traffic trying to merge on to U.S. 24 at the new interchange would have a high risk of colliding with other vehicles that are attempting to exit off the U.S. 24/K-4 ramps, if they were allowed to remain.

He said engineers purposely designed the new interchange to be built as close as possible to the existing one to reduce inconvenience.

The new interchange was not built on the exact site of the existing one because of land acquisition and other problems, he said.

"We understand that it will mean people in this area will have to go a few miles out of the way, but overall, the mobility of motorists in the general area will be better."

The Perry-Lecompton school district, which operates two school buses to and from the area, unanimously supported the protest petition.

Supt. Henry Murphy said that if the interchange is closed, school buses will have to double-back on dirt roads north of U.S. 24, where a car-bus accident occurred a few weeks ago.

"That road is not real safe," Murphy said. "If we have to run buses there, it gives you more of a chance to have accidents."

A public meeting to discuss the issue has been scheduled for 7 p.m. April 16 at the Grantville Fire Station. Jefferson County commissioners are expected to be at the meeting, Bickel said.

Rachel Rees, who organized the petition drive, said everyone approached about the petition signed it.

"Everybody that was asked to sign the petition signed it," she said. "There was not one person who turned us down."

It is unclear what, if any, action the Kansas representatives could take to intervene.

Rees said she figures the Kansas delegation should have some say in the situation, because U.S. 24 is a federal highway.

"We have to remain optimistic," she said.

A date has not been set by KDOT to close the interchange, but it will not happen until funding for the new cloverleaf interchange has been obtained and until construction on the new interchange is complete.

"This isn't going to happen for a while," Miller said.

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