By Katie Bernard
KU Statehouse Wire Service
TOPEKA — A southwest Kansas coalition of city and county leaders are urging legislators to prioritize highway widening on two lane roads that have been fraught with deadly accidents, starting with a project further north.
Doug Smith, a lobbyist for the Southwest Kansas Coalition, told the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday that while there are a wide variety of projects that need to be completed, the cities in the coalition all agreed that if only one project was possible the widening of U.S. Highway 400 from Dodge City to Mullinville, roughly 32 miles, is the priority.
“Our region, not just the three cities, understood the industrial and commercial benefit of expanding westward the improvements to US-54 and 400,” Smith said.
Highway 400 was one of many projects discussed in Wednesday’s meeting. Representatives from Dodge City, Garden City and Seward County each spoke about their priorities and concerns regarding highways in Southwest Kansas.
Each representative discussed the troubles that have come from an increase in production in the cities leading to more transportation of goods and an increase in workers commuting from out of town.
Garden City has seen a particular boost in this traffic as a result of the success of the Dairy Farmers of America, Meadowlark milk drying plant, which produces 500,000 pounds of dry milk powder daily, according to Steve Cottrell, Garden City’s assistant to the city manager.
“That traffic alone impacting our highways is quite phenomenal,” Cottrell said.
This increased traffic along highways 54, 400 and 50 have led to higher risks for accidents along roads that Seward County uses as bus routes, according to county administrator April Warden. She added that deaths caused on these highways have impacted the county.
“It has been devastating to our community,” Warden said.
If the state is unable to widen the highways to four lanes, Warden asked that at the very least passing zones be expanded.
“We realize we may not get four lanes on Highway 54,” she said. “Something would be better than nothing.”
Katie Bernard is a University of Kansas junior studying journalism from Overland Park.