Dismissed early on, a northern route for the U.S. 50 expansion that would avoid the Point of Rocks gets a second look.
For many reasons, a northern route for the expansion of U.S. 50 into a four-lane expressway west of Dodge City would be preferable, said Kansas Department of Transportation Engineer Larry Thompson.
It would allow KDOT to build a new interchange with U.S. 400 — a troubling bit of legacy infrastructure —require fewer residents to sell their property and avoid modifying the Point of Rocks outcrop, Thompson said.
According to five-year crash data from prior to 2010 compiled by the agency, the section of U.S. 50 immediately surrounding the U.S. 400 exchange is the most collision-prone section of the road between Dodge City and Cimarron.
The caveat that led KDOT to dismiss the north option remains: despite some savings in right-of-way purchases, the plan would add $15 million to the project compared to expanding the existing road. Most of those costs would come from building the new interchange, Thompson said, but also from having to build all four lanes from scratch.
The other plans would put the two eastbound lanes atop the existing roadway.
With KDOT making a final decision in about a week, Thompson said the northern route was given a second look but the cost might be insurmountable within the agency's projected budget which comes primarily from state and federal fuel taxes.
The northern option with its larger interchange had been praised by the Ford County Commission, with County Chairman Chris Boys calling it a more future-proof design during an advisory meeting with the transportation agency.
The northern route would also require Ford County to take over maintenance of a roughly two mile stretch of the expressway at a time when the county is feeling significant pressure to reduce long-term financial obligations in an effort to keep the mill levy flat.
He'd have to look at the numbers before coming to a decision, Boys said, and said he had not heard from KDOT that the option was being reconsidered.
Along with the county, heritage groups seeking to protect the Point of Rocks, a navigational aid used by plains travelers in the 1800s, would prefer a route that avoids the landmark entirely.
Earlier, the heritage groups gave support to a plan that would remove a portion of the hilltop and secure it against further erosion and build a smaller, 16-foot median at the point where the road passes the formation.
After nearly two years of public involvement and plan adjustment, KDOT will need to move to the next phase of the project soon to stay on schedule, a KDOT spokesperson said. Construction is slated to begin in 2018 to be finished in 2021.
Traffic on the road, much of it truck freight, is expected to double by 2038.