Is a “Super Highway 54″ needed from Kingman to Pratt?

Here’s a submission from Jerry Winkelman of Wichita. We’re fortunate to have him as a watchdog to keep an eye on things.

Friends are calling about destruction of our formerly picturesque Highway 54 from Kingman to Pratt. Historically this road from Wichita through Pratt to Greensburg was known as the old Cannonball Stagecoach Road. Later, in the 1930’s, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged planting a forest of shelter belts along major Kansas highways including Highways 54 and 50, to fight dust storms and provide habitat for wild animals.

So on Thursday, March 19th, I visited the portion of Highway 54 between Kingman and Pratt where construction is currently underway. Frankly I was shocked and sickened by what I saw. This formerly picturesque Highway 54 roadway is being scraped flat by giant earth movers. The eighty year old Eleanor Roosevelt shelter belts along Highway 54 are being destroyed and burned in huge bonfires by KDOT contractors. Giant earth movers are clawing their way through the ancient Ninnescah River alluvial wetlands along Highway 54 east of Cunningham.

What’s going on? Highway 54 is being replaced by a dual lane, limited access, super-sized Interstate Highway from Wichita to El Paso, Texas. And from El Paso, across the Rio Grande River to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

I talked to many people in the towns of Kingman, Cunningham, Pratt and folks along the way. I received the same reaction from all. The Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) is building this super-sized Interstate Highway for, I’m told, some 100 million dollars in Kansas taxes. And for what reason? This new super interstate highway is universally not wanted by the central Kansas people it is supposedly being built to serve. Even more amazing, it’s being paid for by Kansas taxpayers at a time when Governor Sebelius said our state government can’t afford to pay its employees or properly fund the Kansas public school system.

Now, why is this giant Kansas “bridge to nowhere” being built? Kansas and Oklahoma have plenty of interstate highways to serve this interstate traffic. No one knows.

Does the amount of traffic on this section of Highway 54 warrant this expensive high level improvement? Definitely not. I stopped along Highway 54 near the Byron Walker wildlife area west of Kingman during the 4 to 5 PM “rush hour.” There were moments when I couldn’t see a moving vehicle for five miles in either direction.

Frankly I’m just beginning to ask questions about this mis-designed, mis-guided highway project.

What needs to be done? First of all … immediately stop this $100,000,000.33 boondoggle before more damages are done to the Kansas environment and southern Kansas countryside with a huge amount of our Kansas tax dollars.

Improvements to Highway 54 are needed as are improvements to most Kansas highways and bridges. However, the huge extent of this improvement is definitely not warranted. Whoever is sponsoring this giant government pork barrel project needs to come out of hiding and explain why this waste of our Kansas tax dollars.


11 thoughts on “Is a “Super Highway 54″ needed from Kingman to Pratt?”

  1. Well, I travel much more than Mr. Jerry on hwy 54. I know who Jerry is and he isn’t a good guy. He has ulterior motives than being upset about expanding 54 to four lanes.

    I guess he forgot to mention that 54 used to be called the highway of death as more people died between Kingman and Pratt in its history than any other road in Kansas. Death rates were cut down when it became a Super Two.

    But Mr. Jerry is a pathological liar. He never talked to a bunch of people in those towns and he is lying about the traffic numbers.

    Mr. Jerry lost credibility as anybody that should be listen to. The sad thing is that he pops his head up and yaks about bullcrap and people think he should be listen too?

    This is what it is. His beef about Hwy 54 expansion is that it will bypass and go around Pratt. Jerry is from Pratt and is upset that it will bypass Pratt. If it went through Pratt he wouldn’t care. But he thinks that bypassing Pratt will hurt the Pratt economy. But Pratt’s economy has been dying for a very long time.

    There were more people in Pratt in the 1920’s then there are now. So it isn’t the fault of Hwy 54. Actually four laning 54 will help Pratt, but he doesn’t see it.

    Bob, if you consider Jerry a friend of yours or a friend of liberty and limited government, you are better look again. I wouldn’t trust Jerry to hold a nickel for me.

  2. I couldn’t disagree more, Jerry. I’m a Kansas native who might be related to you on the Winkelman side….email me if you want family names…anyway…
    I travel US 54 to Pratt nearly every day. It is regularly trafficked, and Friday afternoons are the worst. The semi-truck traffic constitutes a large proportion of the vehicles (but I haven’t actually counted). US 54 is one of the most heavily traveled truck routes and has been criticized in the past for inadequate lane sizes, and need for constant repairs due to the wear. I used to do volunteer EMS work on US 54 and Joe is right….US 54 is a death trap, not only from crowding and driving errors, but also in inclement weather. As I write this, I am sitting in my office today and tomorrow because the road is too narrow and unsafe to travel, not because of the snow, but because of the traffic.

    Contrary to your remarks about how everyone is against the highway renovation, I’ve not heard that from my co-workers at Pratt Regional Medical Center or from my hundreds of patients who live in this area. Most of them express worry that I will have an accident and so from a safety perspective they considerate it fortunate that the KS government has approved this project, even ones whose land borders the project. Granted, I don’t know everyone whose land is involved, but the general consensus in Pratt is that it’s a good thing.

    The remarks about the construction decimating the land is totally unwarranted. When it’s done, Kansas will still be as beautiful as it ever was and even more so with a spacious, safe, and solid highway.

    Happy trails,
    Pam

  3. I think Jerry is a good guy and he writes thought-out commentary. Whether I agree with him or not I do want to know what he thinks on issues.

  4. This is 2009! That road has been a deathtrap since I can remember. It is the most heavly traveled east west route in Kansas 2nd only to I-70.
    I too traveled this road daily! Feared for my life that some idiot would not pass at the wrong time and be left to avoid a head on crash! The road was my biggest concern!

    As far as the economy, Pratt will survive even stronger, allowing eaiser and quick access to the city.

    By the way, hat’s off to PRMC! You guys are great!

  5. I was raised in Pratt and I also know that highway 54 is highly dangerous. I have known many people killed due to the inadequate road. The general consensus I’ve seen from my family and friends is that this project is LONG overdue.

    When visiting Pratt, I have never made it without being stuck behind someone driving 45-50 MPH. I have watched MANY people passing these drivers and nearly having headon collisions. There are many slight, unmarked dips in the road where you will assume no one is coming because you cannot see them but when you start to pass the oncoming traffic is suddenly right there.

    I recognize the areas that are being damaged but I also know that KDOT is taking the route that will cause the least damage while getting the road built.

    I do think that any damage that is caused should be fixed…plant more trees than were removed, ensure the wetlands remain and do what we can to fix them, etc. To deny the citizens of these cities the right to safe highways, as Bob Weeks is saying, is a bit ridiculous.

  6. I am currently a student in Haviland at Barclay College, and originally I am from Benton (N.E. of Wichita). Growing up I was a nerd and loved seeing our state make improvements. This very project I have wanted to see for sometime! Yet it was when I first volunteered in Greensburg, that I experienced first hand how dangerous this road often is.

    To date, this road is everything many above have said. It’s packed, dangerous, and you cannot go anywhere without being stuck behind a semi going much less than the speed limit. Even passing lanes cannot relieve these issues on this already updated 2 lane. Currently, as I see it, it’s the best a 2 lane can be, and still is not adequate. It’s time to do what long ago should have been done, update, expand, and widen the clearing of trees on either side of the high way for safety.

    I understand how unfortunate it is to loose a hill in western Kansas to the Bull Dozer, we have only so many to loose… lol. The same with trees. However, safety warrents doing what is needed in and only in the needed areas.

    It is good to see the Bypass around Cunningham coming along. A good safe road will be had for residents and travelers.

    As for the expense of such a project, isn’t this one of the better more productive things our government can use our money on; saftey? Economic growth? It’s better and more helpful to all citizens to have dependeble roadways, than for our taxes to be squandered else where… (like publically funded abortions). However, if the economy does not improve, I believe the most responsible thing for our government would be, must be to hold off on such projects.

    By the way, why did Elleanor Roosevelt’s people thing it was good to have deers snuggled right up along the highways specifically? Wow.

  7. As a driver of a semi, I would disagree about us hwy 54 needing improvements making it from a 2 lane to a 4 lane. I do agree it doesn’t need to be interstate. But a 4 lane is needed. It is a busy road and for safety reasons it needs widening. If not a 4 lane, at least install more passing lanes.

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