Tonganoxie — Area residents had mixed reactions to new highway concepts revealed during a public meeting on a study of highway corridors between Kansas City and Topeka.
A new highway route between Tonganoxie and Perry, and expansion of the Kansas Turnpike to six lanes between Topeka and Kansas City are possible for handling future traffic in the area.
But a commuter or light rail system between Kansas City and Topeka does not appear feasible, according to an engineering firm that is conducting a comprehensive study of the KC-Topeka transportation corridor.
"We feel like we've got a firm handle on the transportation patterns," said Barry Rolle, vice president of HDR Engineering of Kansas City, Mo., and project manager of the Kaw Connects Major Corridor Study.
"We're still trying to narrow the focus so we can come up with some recommendations that will meet the needs of the projected date, which is 2025."
HDR has been hired by the Kansas Department of Transportation and the Kansas Turnpike Authority to conduct the study at a cost of up to $1.28 million.
Rolle said his firm is about halfway through the study, which will include one more round of public meetings in February and a final report containing recommendations to the state agencies by April.
More than 175 people attended Tuesday's public meeting here. Another public meeting is scheduled for today from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Reynolds Lodge, 3315 S.E. Tinman Cir. in Topeka.
KDOT and the KTA will use the report for future road planning, officials of those agencies said.
During Tuesday's meeting, held at Tonganoxie High School, several maps of the corridor-study area were on display.
HDR, KDOT and KTA officials also made two formal presentations and met one on one with people at the forum who had questions.
HDR has eliminated commuter or light rail systems as feasible alternatives to alleviating traffic along the corridor, based on past studies and public input at two meetings on the study in June, Rolle said.
Instead, the firm said expanding existing highways, including I-70, Kansas Highway 10 and U.S. Highway 24-40, are possible.
Rolle stressed, however, that the alternatives were concepts and not design plans.
"This is a planning-level study; it's not a design study," said Jim Tobaben, an engineer with KDOT.
But some residents still feared they eventually could lose their land if the concepts become reality.
"I still don't understand why would you want to get from Tonganoxie to Lake Perry," said Trish Stine, who opposes realigning U.S. Highway 24 across southern Jefferson County.
"We're just sure they're going to widen (U.S.) 24," said Reno Township Fire Chief Richard Ogden, who lives near the highway. "I just want them to take my house if they do. Otherwise, (the highway) will be right next to it."
Rolle said the corridor study is being conducted based only on future traffic and safety needs.
"This study is in no way having to do with economic development," he said.
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