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.