The Kansas Department of Transportation is expected to make a decision regarding the Point of Rocks within the next two to four weeks, said southwest district KDOT spokesperson Kirk Hutchinson.
The decision will come after almost two years of KDOT soliciting input from the affected communities and other stakeholders along the $69 million U.S. 50 project that will double the number of lanes and add a median between Dodge City and Cimarron.
As the discussion has progressed, KDOT has modified the original plan based on that input.
Most notably, KDOT found ways to reduce the impact of the expansion on the historical Soule's Canal and Santa Fe Trail Ruts. It also developed two options that would partially preserve the Point of Rocks west of Dodge City, a rock formation that was used as a navigational aid for cattlemen and settlers in the 1800s.
More recently, KDOT met with members of the western heritage groups Santa Fe Trail Association and Great Western Cattle Trail Association and elected officials from Ford County and Dodge City, including local legislators, to discuss two options for the Point of Rocks.
One option would widen the road for a 16-foot median between the lanes, though KDOT engineers would prefer to add a 60-foot grass median as will be present along the rest of the expressway.
Both options would cut into the rocks, but to a lesser extent than originally proposed, and cover the rock face with a retaining wall styled in a way to resemble the sandstone formation.
The trail associations have urged local elected officials to back the 16-foot option. The Ford County Commission is expected to pass a resolution to that effect soon after voicing its support to KDOT in a work session.
Though the Point of Rocks is not listed as an official historical place due to modifications made to the rock when the railroad and road were constructed, Bill Bunyan, the president of the local Santa Fe Trail Association chapter, points to a photograph nearly 100 years old that shows the rock being similar to today.
Even if the rock had been broken up by rail construction, he said, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a historical marker on the formation afterward. That marker now sits on Wyatt Earp Boulevard across from Dodge House.
Bunyan also points to petitions online where almost 2,500 people have signed to "save the rocks."
The landowner who owns the rock formation, Jack Fox, told the Dodge City Commission he would not renew the lease with the city to keep the cowboy silhouette sign on his land if the 60-foot median is selected.
The Dodge City Commission unanimously sided with KDOT's recommendation, citing safety concerns.
Page 2 of 2 - If the 60-foot median is constructed, the Commission said it would support the creation of a rest area and historical marker next to the point. If the 16-foot median is chosen, commissioners said they would not support such a plan.
Rep. Ron Ryckman, Sr., said he supports the 16-foot median, but thinks the most important issue is that the road is constructed.
Ryckman, like the other elected officials, has received many calls, emails and letters on the issue, and all but one, he said, were in support of the 16-foot median.
He said he understands KDOT's point of view, but thinks that engineers tend to err on the side of safety.
"I could live with the 60 foot," he said, but the biggest issue is that "we need to get the four-lane built" and keep the money in the area.
He said he's been happy with how the KDOT has responded to the public's input and came up with a way to preserve the rocks.