Archive for Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Douglas County portion of new US 59 still on schedule for construction

October 22, 2008

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Crews are building a new U.S. Highway 59 just south of the border, in Franklin County, while the site of the newer, wider, safer highway remains silent in Douglas County.

But don't expect another "road to nowhere" like the South Lawrence Trafficway and its half-done, half-in-limbo approach to traffic management, officials say. The Douglas County portion of the new U.S. 59 project simply is part of a separate contract, one still on schedule for construction in the coming years.

Contractors will be submitting bids next month to snag the grading and bridge-construction portion of the project, similar to the $44 million of such work already under way to the south, between the county line and Ottawa. The Douglas County portion of the contract is about a year behind schedule, thanks in part to unexpected soil issues near Pleasant Grove that required drawing up new plans.

Don't worry about the state's financial crunch putting the brakes on the overall work, said Kim Qualls, a department spokeswoman.

"The project is funded completely," she said.

In all, the project's total budget calls for spending $207.3 million on construction, Qualls said. That's the number that has been on the books since 2005, before a relatively recent runup in expenses.

"There probably will be increased costs as we move forward with the project," she said. "Asphalt went up. Concrete went up. : All the costs have gone up."

But the costs are expected to remain contained within the state's existing comprehensive transportation program, a 10-year plan sent to expire in June. Even though a major portion of the contract for building U.S. 59 in Douglas County - installing the actual road surface itself, a contract set to be awarded in late 2010 - won't make that deadline, Qualls said, the money remains in place.

Just how other projects will fare depends on what form the next transportation program takes, she said. State lawmakers will be expected to grapple with the issue beginning in January.

The planned completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway - which would build a new section of Kansas Highway 10 to connect the aforementioned bridge to nowhere at U.S. Highway 59 to K-10 near Noria Road - is not yet on the state's list for future financing, Qualls said. That's because the project doesn't have a specific set of plans, as the highway's proposed alignment through the Baker Wetlands faces the threat of a federal lawsuit, one expected to be filed later this week by environmental groups and other opponents.

"We have projects designed and on the shelf, but there's no funding for them at this point - no dedicated funding," Qualls said. "Once we know what the future program will be, and what the funding is, at that point we can look at projects."

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