Ottawa Drivers along a new U.S. 59 freeway are enjoying additional lanes, paved shoulders, lengthy on-ramps, a 70 mph speed limit and the overall comfort and security that come with a $63.5 million investment in upgraded transportation.
Too bad drivers in Douglas County will need to wait more than two years for the benefits to reach closer to home.
“When I’m driving down to Baldwin City — we have some work down there — I’m wishing for that new road,” said Aron Cromwell, a Lawrence city commissioner. “It’d be nice to have that completed. We’re anxious to have as nice a road up in Douglas County as they have here in Franklin County.”
Completion of the new U.S. 59 — the $103.2 million, 11.1-mile stretch in Douglas County — remains set for late 2012, even as Cromwell and more than 100 officials, supporters and others gathered Wednesday morning in Ottawa to celebrate the official opening of the nearly 9-mile-long section in Franklin County.
Gov. Mark Parkinson hailed the finished section as a major safety improvement that will be expected to drive economic-development efforts in Ottawa, Franklin County and elsewhere in northeast Kansas.
Such progress, he said, will continue as the state embarks on its upcoming transportation plan, one expected to spend $1.7 billion on projects during the next decade.
“It’s economic development when we build the road, but more important than that is all the businesses and city expansions that happen around good roads,” Parkinson said after the event inside an American Eagle Outfitters Distribution Center in Ottawa. “It’s really one of the reasons that I think Kansas is in an economic position that’s better than most other states.”
Deb Miller, the state’s secretary of transportation, said the state’s previous transportation program had enabled the combined U.S. 59 project — but that the state’s ongoing financial pressures had pushed some projects behind schedule.
The U.S. 59 section in Douglas County fit that description, in terms of construction staging, Miller said. But other difficulties, including concerns and adjustments made in regard to soil conditions, also added up to delays.
“But we’ve got construction going on,” Miller said. “I always tell people it’s like remodeling a kitchen: It’s unpleasant and ugly as can be in the middle of it, but — man — once it’s finished, you kind of forget those bad days.”