By JAMES BELL
Area legislators Sen. Elaine Bowers and Rep. Troy Waymaster joined Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz at the Kansas Department of Transportation building in Russell on Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony for a T-WORKS project — work originally announced in 2011.
The $9.8 million project will rehabilitate and reconstruct approximately 4 miles of pavement north of Russell, according to KDOT.
"Work will begin later this spring and include the construction of a 30-foot paved surface with three-foot turf shoulders starting at 15th Street in Russell and ending near Land Road," KDOT said in a news release. "Approximately 1.6 miles of the project will be built on an offset alignment around a geological slide area that has previously caused issues on the current highway."
"A right turn lane will also be constructed in the northbound lane at Land Road," KDOT said. "Sporer Land Development of Oakley is the primary contractor for the project, which is expected to be completed in October 2021.
“It’s a great day for northwest Kansas and southwest Kansas, and for the entire state,” Lorenz said.
She also said she was the happy projects were moving forward finally fulfilling the promises made to the communities.
Lorenz used the groundbreaking to share details of project FORWARD that will change the way Kansas chooses and completes road projects.
This project, she said, is a good example of cost savings that project FORWARD can create by expanding the road while at the same time fixing the pavement damaged by a geologic shift that closed a section of the highway last summer.
“Under FORWARD, this type of project will be called preservation plus,” Lorenz said.
A key component of the new program, she said, will be looking for ways to improve roads and infrastructure while completing repairs whenever it is cost-effective.
Road projects will now also be evaluated every two years — and ready to go in two to four years.
But completing delayed T-WORKS projects will take priority over any new ones as part of Gov. Laura Kelly's plan to repair Kansas roadways and restore funding to KDOT that had been diminished over the last decade.
When originally announced, the Russell County project would have updated a 15-mile stretch of U.S. 281, but the damage to the roadway created a sense of urgency, Lorenz said. So the project will be split into two parts, with the rest of the project to be completed at a later time.
“This project is a great example of combining an immediate need for reconstructing the roadway — while also modernizing the highway with shoulder slopes with a flatter profile to support larger agriculture equipment,” Lorenz said. “Under FORWARD, we will make sure the remaining delayed T-WORKS projects, like phase two of this project, are at the front of the line for being completed.”
“What this project means for Kansas is a safer trip to school, a safer commute to work and being able to better deliver goods to market,” Lorenz said, noting the 240 motor vehicle accidents, including one fatality in Russel County last year.
“That’s too many,” she said.
Clayton Wilson, superintendent at Sporer Land Development, said the diminished funding for road projects had hurt his company and is happy to once again be working in Kansas.
Since joining the company in 1993, he said every year they had KDOT projects until the state cut funding.
“It has been the backbone of our company, our employees, their families and we were dealt a significant blow in 2015 because we knew in 2016 our company wasn’t going to have a KDOT for the first time in the history of the company,” Wilson said.
Working in Russell County means that their equipment and employees will get to work in the heart of Kansas and not in other states — like they have for the last four years, he said.
He also said he is happy to see lawmakers again pushing to repair infrastructure in Kansas and returning funding to complete road improvement projects.
“This isn't the only one," Wilson said. "There are more roads that need fixing in the state of Kansas — and without them fighting for the dollars, it's not going to happen.”