December 01st, 2023

county groupCounty Commission Chairman Scott Carr, middle, and commissioners Steve Helm and Presephoni Fuller listen to discussions regarding problems with roads in the county at the county commission's most recent meeting. L&T photo/Robert PierceROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


Rural roads in Seward County continue to be an issue, and the topic was again a point of conversation at the most recent county commission meeting.

Road and Bridge Supervisor Bobby Wright, along with C.W. Harper of Kirkham Michael, the firm hired by the county to address some road problems, touched on one particular piece of road last Monday.

“We’ve got some issues with Old 83 Highway up there we want to bring you up to speed on,” Wright said. “It’s between 16 and 17, and it’s pretty hilly. We’ve got a road up there, and if we don’t attend to it someday, we’ll have to close this thing.”

Wright said if works starts in the near future, the Highway 83 project can be featured as a High Risk Rural Road (HRRR) project for the Federal Highway Administration.

“They may help us in this situation, but that 10 miles will go back to 83,” he said. “We won’t be able to do anything with until we do this, and we’re also looking at another project or two.”

Wright said the problems with Old Highway 83 have been known for some time, but he urged to have something done as soon as possible.

“We’re going to have to do something to it or we’ll end up closing it someday, then that’s going to be a long way around,” he said. “As soon as you get up into that first hill right there, there’s a little low spot right there. There’s a box culvert down there. That ground falls away real hard right there. It goes downhill hard, and we’ve discussed trying to figure out a way to do this.”

Harper said if the FHA would cover design costs, the project could be applied for under the HRRR program.

“The applications are due at the beginning of February,” he said. “Selections are usually in June. We are still waiting on design contracts for our current HRRR projects we got selected in June.”

Harper said with the Kansas Department of Transportation saying no to the project, the county will pay for site specific designs.

“We can basically start the design,” he said. “You guys have to pay for the full thing, but if we get selected in February, we’re basically walking in the door saying, here are the designs, put us on the bid project, and we can basically get the construction rolling quite a bit faster.”

Administrator April Warden said design is about 10 percent of the project, and the project would be for four re-enforced concrete boxes on concrete culverts.

“That is going to be around $1 million,” she said. “We’re looking at a $100,000 design costs, but if we’re selected for the HRRR, they pay 90 percent of the construction. We would be responsible for 10 percent, which would be approximately another $100,000, but of a million dollar project, we would be at approximately $200,000.”

Wright said purchasing right of way likewise falls on the county. Warden agreed with Wright, saying the project is an important one.

“I don’t think we want to wait until something does happen,” she said.

County leaders are likewise trying to prioritize road projects, and Harper said in addition to Old Hwy. 83, he would like to add Panhandle Road (Road R) and Meade Lake Road (Road 13) to that list because of their access to High Plains Ponderosa Dairy.

“If they’re talking expansion, you could possibly apply for either some economic development dollars to help with that project,” he said. “Kicking it to next year would give you a chance to apply for those.”

Warden said Monday’s discussion was an opportunity to give commissioners a chance to open discussion at the board’s next town hall meeting on Sept. 26.

“We can have discussions at strategic planning, but it’s on for your town hall,” she said. “We could announce we’ve chosen our 10 miles for this year and updates on that road and the understanding of when we talk about this, we’ve got to put the bids together. Obviously, it won’t be done this year, but you will have identified it and will be starting the progress towards having that completed.”

Other recent discussions have centered around Road O and Road P, and Wright said those problems have not been forgotten.

“We’ve discussed it at length as well and signage and what we perhaps can do there,” he said. “We haven’t come up with any conclusion yet, but we’re still talking about it.”

Commissioner Presephoni Fuller said what can be done should be done on these roads. 

“Whenever the designated sign that could be there within the regulations, the rules of the road law, I think we should move forward to do that,” she said. “That is allowed to say there are buses coming through here. Doesn’t say slow down, doesn’t say stop, but just makes them aware of buses.”

Warden said other problems with Road O and Road P can be fixed as well.

“We can’t asphalt that right now, but there are chemicals you can put on that to help strengthen  the road and cause less dust,” she said. 

Some commissioners and other county officials suggested putting signs up to not allow trucks that have turned on to paved roads from dirt roads to go back onto dirt roads. With this, enforcement is a concern, and County Counsel Nathan Foreman said caution needs to be taken when considering such an idea.

“The way I’ve seen something like this addressed before for other counties would be some type of truck route, but I don’t know exactly how you would enforce that type of ordinance that said once you’re on a paved road, you can’t get off of it because you couldn’t access the road system,” he said. “If you cut their ability to go on any kind of dirt road after somebody hits pavement, there’s areas that can’t be accessed. Other counties will do signs that say no thru truck traffic, but I’ve never seen it where once they’ve hit pavement, they can’t get on any kind of dirt road.”

Warden said Kirkham Michael let the county borrow a traffic counter, which was a radar version, but she said no data is available at this time for Road P traffic.

“I did ask how much those traffic counters would cost because right now, we were lucky enough to use their because they weren’t utilizing one of them,” she said. “If you went with the radar version, you could probably get two of them for $5,000. I would like to propose letting us fill out a grant with our local foundation here to see if possibly they would be willing to help us with that.”

Discussions on local road issues are expected to continue at upcoming commission meetings and the Sept. 26 town hall meeting.