After Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced in recent months that the state would have to delay indefinitely the Highway 69 project that would widen the highway between Fort Scott and Highway 44, that project could be back on schedule once again after Southeast Kansas politicians and residents fought for the project.
“This is a perfect example of people speaking up and legislators listening,” Fort Scott City Manager Dave Martin, expressing appreciation to those involved in the change such as Senator Jake LaTurner and Kansas Secretary of Transportation Mike King.
After the project’s delay was announced in April, LaTurner wrote a letter to the governor emphasizing the importance of the project and then met with him and other administration personally to find a way to continue the project. With the help of King, who agreed to use funding remaining in the Kansas Department of Transportation budget, an agreement has been reached that will allow phase one to begin within the next year.
“I’m not naïve enough to know we’re not there yet,” Martin admitted. “It looks like the first battle’s been won, but until they actually sign contracts and break ground, we can’t let up. We have to continue to fight.”
Although he admitted some might believe he is biased because of his position in Fort Scott, Martin said he believes, among the approximate 25 other projects the state of Kansas had to choose among, the connection between Southeast Kansas and Kansas City is probably the most crucial to the economic development of the state as it makes travel easier for visitors.
Martin added he and Fort Scott Director of Economic Development Heather Smith have made commitments to businesses located along that corridor and have even received commitments from businesses when they learned of the widening project, making its continuation important for area development.
“We can’t turn our back on it,” Martin said, encouraging the public to continue to keep pressure on the legislators. “That’s what we need to do to continue our development of our great city and county and Southeast Kansas.”
Contracts for the project could be let by October of 2016 with construction beginning on the $25 million phase one in the spring of 2017, earlier than it had been previously scheduled. The first phase will widen Highway 69 to four lanes from south of Fort Scott to the Crawford County line. Future phases will continue that widening even further south.
“I think once they start phase one, it makes even more sense to go ahead and continue it and get it done,” Martin said.