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Abilene Suffers For State Highway Project

KSAL Staff - November 26, 2013 10:12 am

abilene exit open

The Colby Free Press:

The Kansas Department of Transportation made a terrible mess out of a project down in Abilene this fall, causing millions in damage to businesses near the town’s main exit while it was closed for more than two months.

Imagine any town cut off from its major highway for two months. Think what that could do to business, and did to businesses in Abilene.

Apparently to save time and money, the department decided to just close the eastbound exit from Interstate 70 to K-15, which serves as Abilene’s Main Street and the main access to tourist attractions including the Seeley Mansion and the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

The only detour took drivers several miles east to a rural exit, where signs directed them to turn back and use the westbound exit. Most, apparently, just kept going.

And Abilene, with its museums, attractions, restaurants and antique stores, is a tourist town. Business feeds off that exit from I-70.

Business people said they heard little about plans to close the exit before it happened. Department spokesmen said they met with city officials and told them about the plans, earlier but merchants say the only warning they got was from a press release issued by the state a couple of days before the ramps closed.

The city manager estimates the closing had cost businesses between $9 million and $12 million as of a couple of weeks ago, and the interchange did not open for another week. And these are mostly small businesses that operate on a thin margin. Every dollar counts, and these businesses have lost too many.

There are tradeoffs between closing a road and keeping traffic going to businesses. If the department takes time to listen to business people, it usually finds a way to keep them going. But the department doesn’t always do that.

Some projects include advance scoping sessions, where officials listen to citizen comments. Hearing and public meetings are held, comments recorded. That apparently did not happen with the $12 million project in Abilene. It should have.

Sometimes, it seems like consultants hired to plan a project do a better job than the state itself, but whoever is running a project, citizens’ needs ought to be considered. Small businesses cannot take the kind of blows suffered here and long survive.

Taking the Abilene project as an example: if the repaving costs the state $12 million and merchants lost that much business because of it, maybe the department should have spent another million to build temporary ramps or carry traffic through the construction to K-15.

Saving money for the state – while damaging tax-paying businesses and maybe bankrupting a couple – does not seem like much of a bargain. No project like this should begin without complete and proper public input, and the department ought to realize that by now.

It seems to us what happened in Abilene should never happen again in Kansas.

Opinion by: The Colby Free Press

Fuchs Mi

November 28, 2013 at 8:10 am

bilene got screwed two times this year. First by Alco pulling out then by KDOT. What I find funny KDOT can give out all this grant money to police departments to do what they are already getting paid to do but they cut off a whole town from its revenue. What’s wrong with this picture?

Lance Homman

November 28, 2013 at 6:08 pm

Especially ironic when you consider that Ike had them reroute I-70 further south than it was originally platted to go to include his hometown. Yeah, Abilene depends upon that highway.

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