Riley County commissioners are looking to the future, and the direction they are eyeing is north.
As Manhattan grows, all three commissioners believe developing roadways north of the city can better connect the area, ease semi-truck traffic and cultivate commercial expansion.
As county engineer Leon Hobson prepares for upcoming Kansas Department of Transportation consult meetings, commission chairman Bob Boyd said it’s time the county begins preparing for further roadway development north of Manhattan.
Pottawatomie County has proposed a feasibility study to KDOT in looking at a bridge to cross the Big Blue River and connect to Riley County. One option includes connecting Junietta Road east of the river to Marlatt Avenue on the west side of it. At the moment, U.S. Highway 24 is the only efficient option for anyone east of Manhattan wishing to come into the Little Apple, and the study aims to ease that congestion.
“I think it’s time for us to start studying an arterial (roadway) around the city of Manhattan to the north,” Boyd said to Hobson during a commission meeting earlier this week. “This is an opportunity to do something progressive and forward-thinking.
“We have got to figure out a way to string that traffic around the whole city and open up the north part of the county.”
While Hobson expressed doubt it would be the type of project KDOT would be interested in, Boyd said the main issue to him was that Riley County be ahead of the game and be prepared for whatever Pottawatomie County’s study concludes.
“This issue is that the study that goes on with Pottawatomie County . They are driving the boat on this,” Boyd said. “We just got to be able to stay ahead and make sure we get a facility for infrastructure that helps us develop.
“This is an opportunity to really set the course for Riley County for decades to come.”
Commissioner Ron Wells would like to see a bridge be placed farther north than Marlatt Avenue.
“It needs to go further north and move traffic through and around Manhattan,” Wells said. “We’re too short-sighted to think we’re going to bring traffic into K-State. This is supposed to get all the thousands of grain trucks hauling grain from every elevator west of here and to Topeka, this is to run traffic.
“It needs to go further north and (we need) to think ahead 20, 30, 40, 50 years because we need to think that way. We just need to know what the best direction to go about this is.”
Wells said the City of Manhattan favors the Marlatt connection, because they believe it will help bring more people to shops and commerce, but Wells said since the development is aimed more at giving larger commercial and farm trucks another option besides busier urban traffic, that the city holds a “short-sighted” view.
“The city believes they’ll want to go to shops, that’s not true… that’s not going to happen,” Wells said.
Wells also said cost of developing the roadways north of town won’t be cheap, either, especially in today’s current tax climate.
“Ultimately we’re in a steep uphill battle,” Wells said. “Nationwide we have a big decline in the fuel road-use tax and our infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly. Well over half the bridges in the United States are a shame to use and in other words, we have a problem.
“And I know my constituents in Riley County don’t want to pay any more tax… in the meantime the Tesla cars (and other) electric cars are paying zero (fuel) taxes, so the tax money coming in for road and bridge is not going to increase.”
While nothing is set in stone and things are in early preliminary stages, Boyd said north roadway development is something he wants to keep on the radar.
“We’re not looking to lay asphalt next week,” Boyd said. “We don’t want to built it tomorrow, we just want the planning (and studies to get started.)
“All I want is some ideas.”