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Archive for Sunday, April 29, 2001

Public impact

April 29, 2001

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The Kansas Department of Transportation may be contributing to the impression that it's difficult for citizens to have an impact on government.

During a discussion with members of a Kansas University environmental studies class Wednesday, Kansas Department of Transportation attorney Mike Rees expressed disappointment with the students' distrust of government.

"Are you so distrustful in your government that it doesn't matter: 'You are going to screw us anyway,'" Rees asked.

The discussion focused on the class's work to produce an environmental impact statement that outlines the effect of KDOT's plans for U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence. The state plans to build a new four-lane freeway east of the existing road and return the current highway to county control.

Rees told students that the political system works and reminded them that their environmental studies and criticism of KDOT would do little good if they aren't accompanied by action.

"It's out there and it's your government," he said. "I think you're making a mistake thinking you can't do anything."

Rees is right that people need to get involved and be politically active, but KDOT's process in determining the route for U.S. 59, as well as other projects in the Lawrence area, make it easy to understand the students' skepticism.

KDOT held "hearings" about U.S. 59, but didn't seem to do much listening to residents along the route or even local government officials from Douglas and Franklin counties. Once the engineers had decided on their "preferred" route, the KDOT project was set and there was little room for additional input.

Current plans for a bypass south of Lawrence seem to repeat this pattern. KDOT "listened" and then worked around opposition. Although many people have expressed concern about the environmental impact of the bypass project, KDOT is focusing on a route that would cut through the heart of the Baker Wetlands.

Many people would like to see the two ends of Kansas Highway 10 connected by a road around south Lawrence, but KDOT's efforts on that project don't seem to be closely guided by the public input they have received.

It's understandable that students have developed a somewhat jaded view of how much impact they can have on the actions of their government bureaucracy.

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