State considering new plan for highway project

highway

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — State transportation officials have come up with an alternative plan for a southwest Kansas highway project to avoid removing part of a historic rock formation, but it comes with a significant price.

Plans for a 16-mile, $69 million project that would expand U.S. 50 to four lanes from Cimarron to Dodge City hit a speed bump over opposition to removing part of the Point of Rocks sandstone formation west of Dodge City, part of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s preferred plan.

“Through our discussions the past three months, we have not been able to reach a consensus between all the concerned parties, regarding the best alternative,” Kirk Hutchinson, public affairs manager for KDOT, told The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/Po2xTX) in an email. “The design team has recommended a 60-foot option, which they believe would be a safer option, but it would remove a larger chunk of the Point of Rocks.”

Dodge City officials have supported that option, while western heritage advocates have argued for a narrower median that would remove less of the hilltop.

The new option, which would route the highway north of the rock formation, would cost an additional $15 million, said Larry Thompson, the KDOT District 6 engineer.

It would create an interchange with U.S. 400, take fewer houses and have less conflict with existing utilities than the preferred plan. But it also would turn more than two miles of U.S. 50 over to Ford County as a county road, making the county responsible for maintaining it.

“I think it would be great if they can do it,” said Leo Oliva, a Santa Fe Trail historian. “The big factor will be the cost. But it is at least encouraging they are considering it.”

The Point of Rocks, about three miles west of town, was a beacon for wagon trains and cattle drives in the 1800s along the Santa Fe and Great Western trails. A metal sign featuring a silhouette of cowboys atop horses was installed on the formation in 1997 by the city.

A petition to save the historic hilltop has been circulated online by Santa Fe Trail and history enthusiasts, and Oliva encourages people who want to save the hill to sign it and contact their local and state representatives.

“This is an alternate plan,” Oliva said. “It has not been adopted, by any stretch.”

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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