LOUISBURG — Matt Kern of Louisburg said he is concerned about some of the modifications the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) has made to a proposed four-lane expressway on Kansas Highway 68, between U.S. Highway 169 north of Paola and U.S. Highway 69 at Louisburg.
But it is what Kern did not see in KDOT’s Oct. 14 presentation in Louisburg that he found most troubling.
Kern said Miami County’s corridor management plan, prepared in concert with KDOT in 2009, showed a clear concern for safety on K-68 with turn lanes noted in several locations, including at New Lancaster Road. Kern and dozens of other motorists use New Lancaster Road to access K-68 on a daily basis.
“Back in 2009 they have turn lanes posted, certainly at New Lancaster, and they’ve since removed those without explanation,” Kern said. “I was expecting to see more than turn lanes at the meeting and to see that they actually removed those — I think that deserves some explanation.”
Some local residents, including Kern and former state senator Pat Apple, expressed their concerns about that high-traffic intersection during KDOT’s public meeting in the Louisburg High School auditorium.
Kern, Tim Lanz and Matt and Heather Kram started a petition on Oct. 18, based on what they heard from KDOT and its consultants on Oct. 14, which asks KDOT for improved safety measures. They also started a Facebook page called “K-68 Miami County Expansion Petition Support” to inform local citizens of KDOT’s plan and gain support for a petition to request further safety measures be included in the four-lane build. The petition states:
“We petition KDOT to consider the following to minimize future hazards to human health as part of the project:
• A reduction of speed to 55 mph from just West of New Lancaster & 68 Hwy and Eastward to 69 Hwy to prepare high speed traffic for residential areas
• Traffic control in the form of stop lights OR a roundabout at New Lancaster & 68 Hwy to allow safe passage onto and off of 68 Hwy
• Turn lanes off of 68 Hwy for Northbound and Southbound access off of New Lancaster to avoid rear collisions with traffic at speed.”
The petition can be found at https://bit.ly/3jhWq3B
As of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, the petition had 121 signatures. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 1, and the petitioners said their goal is to collect as many signatures as they can before that cutoff date.
Petitioner Heather Kram said she is concerned KDOT is basing its K-68 four-lane expressway design on a traffic study that was completed nearly a decade ago.
“They are using information from 2012 and not 2021,” she said. “There are so many accidents on this road, and we have young children driving from New Lancaster to Louisburg/Paola and we are scared for their safety. We are starting this petition to have KDOT add more safety like lights or roundabouts and turning lanes.”
Kern said the petitioners are asking KDOT to look beyond the dated traffic study. KDOT officials confirmed at the Oct. 14 meeting that a full traffic study hasn’t been completed since 2012.
“What we’re looking for is sort of ‘step out of the 24-hour sort of traffic study view of the world’ and look at our proximity to Louisburg, our population density and in a lot of ways I think treat this (New Lancaster) intersection and eastward into Louisburg as sort of a single community,” Kern said. “Really that 1.5 miles is the big focus. And so as it is today, we will expect a four-lane corridor that attracts more traffic at high speeds, 65 mph, really unabated all the way in towards the city limits.”
Petitioners were bothered by a comment made by a transportation official at the meeting who said traffic controls would only slow down traffic which defeats the purpose of an expressway.
“We need heavy traffic to slow down as it approaches Louisburg and the consolidated 68 Highway entry points at New Lancaster,” Kern said.
New Lancaster will serve as a collection point for some other roads and all connected driveways which will be funneled to that intersection.
Kern said preparation work for access roads is already underway.
“Frankly people are still kind of waking up to what’s happening here,” he said. “I think the big concern is that peak hour of school time and work time morning and evening. I got to say I look at my Life360 every morning to see if my kids made it to school, entering and exiting that intersection.”
The current work is part of two T-WORKS projects scheduled to be built next spring in preparation of the four-lane expansion. The four-lane expansion between the U.S. highways is unfunded at this time, but the final design is expected in 2023, according to KDOT.
Intermodal truck traffic will increase on K-68 in the future, and New Lancaster will serve as a paved collector route, Kern predicted.
“We’re in favor of improvements in the four lane,” Kern said. “I think it’s inevitable since the intermodal attempts to get a larger beltway put in have failed.”
Kern said he’s concerned about other locations on K-68.
“All points west, I’m concerned about too, but I think the Cider Mill — I understand the consultant’s point that it’s episodic in terms of that being a concern,” he said.
Kern also knows a traffic light at the New Lancaster intersection would be a hard sell but he thinks KDOT has an opportunity to preemptively reduce the possibility of injury and death of citizens in that area.
“I think the ask is traffic controls, starting at that point (New Lancaster) — speed reduction, perhaps a flashing light coming eastward to indicate there is a speed reduction (ahead at the city limits), and turn lanes for sure,” he said. “We’re just trying to get them to treat this community of 90-plus homes as kind of part of Louisburg in a lot of ways, with the traffic through that stretch.”