Residents from around the area filled the Green Valley Community Center Thursday to discuss proposed routes for a second highway into Manhattan from the east.
“Highway 24 is reaching its capacity, meaning more accidents, more delays,” said Buck Driggs, project manager for SMH Consultants. “This is an option to help reduce that traffic by creating another outlet.”
Driggs said the purpose of meeting was to educate the public on what the project entailed, to hear feedback and to see whether there was enough public support to move forward with the project. Pottawatomie County Administrator Robert Reece said expansion of Marlatt Avenue was first proposed about 10 years ago, and again in 2009.
He said the county is moving forward with the project because if the county sets the land aside now, future development of the county and the city of Manhattan would not infringe on where the road might be.
Some attendees were concerned not only with where the road might be, but who would pay for it. Reece said that at this stage there was no funding. The study of possible routes was paid for by Pottawatomie County so that the commission could take the results to the Kansas Department of Transportation in October. Every October, KDOT holds a meeting to discuss future projects and funding, he said. Reece hopes that the transportation department will consider funding at least part of the expansion, which would offset the costs of the project for local entities.
The cost currently is estimated to be between $34 million and $50 million. Driggs said he thought funds for the road would come from a variety of sources, among them the city of Manhattan, Pottawatomie County and KDOT.
In relation to the Metropolitan Planning Organization project, Reece said the proposed extension could influence how and where residential and businesses grow and develop.
“Better roads spur more growth,” Reese said. “I don’t see the MPO influencing the expansion, but I do see the expansion influencing the MPO.”
Robert Bellinger, a local land owner who could be affected by the road, stood next to one of the maps arguing how the county needed to consider moving the proposed road a mile further north. Bellinger said the proposed site brought the road into Manhattan across a floodplain. He said the proposed route would cause flooding north of the highway unless the county put the highway on stilts, like Topeka developers did in order to reduce unnecessary flooding.
“I came to the county in ‘92 to discuss setting aside land for this road,” Bellinger said. “I was willing to work with them then to save the county and me a lot of money, but they wouldn’t hear it.”
All six of the proposed routes converge just east of the flood plain, and all six go through the floodplain before connecting to Marlatt. Bellinger said the county should let the road follow the hills north around the plain and then drop back down into Manhattan, thereby creating what he called a flood-proof road. He said if the county goes ahead with any of the currently proposed roads, none will be flood-proof. When it rains, he said, residents will have to drive 35 miles one-way to get into Manhattan, an unnecessary trip if the proposed highway would bend around the plain rather than bisect it.
“I don’t think one mile north is too far to go if it means the road won’t flood,” Bellinger said.
While the expansion project is still in the concept phase — no land has been set aside, no construction has been done — the residents, project planners, and Pottawatomie county administrator did agree that something needs to be done.