The state’s new 10-year transportation plan, which Gov. Laura Kelly signed Friday, April 3, puts previously delayed improvements to Kansas Highway 68 in Miami County back on the radar.
The $10 billion plan, which is being called the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, was passed by the House and Senate shortly before the Legislature adjourned in March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
SB 173 passed the House 112 to three and the Senate 37 to two, with all local legislators supporting the bill.
The program will impact every part of the state, as $8 million is slated to be spent in all 105 counties in Kansas during the next decade.
The plan also calls for the completion of the previously abandoned T-Works projects and states that they should be let prior to July 1, 2023.
Two of those projects involve improvements to Highway 68 that Miami County officials and residents have been counting on for years. The first is the four-lane expansion of Highway 68 from U.S. Highway 69 west about 0.8 mile, and the second is a frontage road from Somerset Road east about 0.3 mile.
The expansion project previously was scheduled to cost $11.5 million with a let date of January 2018, and the frontage road project was scheduled to cost $2,260,000 with a let date of July 2016 before funding issues prompted the plans to be shelved.
Rep. Jene Vickrey, a Republican from Louisburg, said one of the top priorities will be figuring out a design that works for the Louisburg Cider Mill, which is located along Highway 68 east of Somerset Road.
“They bring in a lot of commerce,” Vickrey said. “The traffic is amazing, and we need to get everyone on and off safely.”
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, said she’s been working for Highway 68 improvements ever since she became a senator.
“It’s the longest stretch of state highway that isn’t divided and isn’t four lanes,” Baumgardner said. “It’s long overdue.”
Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Republican from Parker, has also consistently fought for improvements to Highway 68, and she said she will continue to push for making the entire highway four lanes from Ottawa to the state line.
“It is so critical, and we all know it,” Tyson said. “It’s one of the most dangerous highways in the state.”
Tyson said one aspect of the new transportation plan that she appreciates is that Internet providers will be contacted to see if they want to lay fiber optic lines while the ditches are open during the construction projects.
“Broadband is critical for the state,” she said.
Rep. Mark Samsel, a Republican from Wellsville, said the plan also will create jobs in Kansas as the infrastructure improvements get underway.
“That’s huge for Kansas,” he said.