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June 14th, 2021

seward county logoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times

 

Issues with several county roads were part of a discussion of more than half an hour Monday evening.

The discussion was part of the Seward County Commissioners’ regular meeting, and prior to an agenda item, one resident addressed the board during the citizens comments portion of the meeting.

Les Jantzen said with construction work on U.S. Highway 54, many roads in the county have been closed off, and this has forced many commercial hauling operations to find alternative routes.

“We’ve got one way out on Road M now,” he said. “These are commercial operation vehicles going down a hard to maintain road.”

Later in the meeting, Road and Bridge Supervisor Tony Herrman led a discussion about issues on Road R, known to locals as Panhandle Road.

“It broke down two years ago, and we did some blade patching on it in about a half a dozen places,” he said. “A couple of them were a little rough, but we tried to dress them back up the best we can.”

The Panhandle Road problem came about after constituents contacted Commissioner C.J. Wettstein who shared these concerns with Administrator April Warden, who asked Herrman to be available for Monday’s meeting.

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Herrman with the exception of a few residents, he has heard little in the way of complaints about Panhandle Road.

“Everybody else realizes what it is,” he said. “I’ve asked for several years now to try to get the commission to agree to a program of some sort where we could budget or do a bond issue to do so many miles of our blacktops.”

Herrman said Seward County has 139 miles of blacktop, and in his time with the county, he has tried to maintain those roads as best as possible.

“We finally did some milling and overlay on several miles of them, but it’s such a costly program that you as commissioners need to make a decision to spend money and redo those roads in a series over 10 years,” he said. “You’ve got heavy truck traffic with shortcuts. Panhandle Road is one of the biggest shortcuts even through the 54 project. The supplier for the concrete is supposed to come out of Garden City, and he’s supposed to stay on the highway.”

Herrman said he has contacted officials with the Kansas Department of Transportation, with little help being given. He added county roads now have more truck traffic than ever, with levels increasing every month.

“You’ve got a Catch-22,” he said. “You’ve got your constituents, your farmers, taxpayers, and you’ve got the tearing up of the roads to deal with. I don’t wish it on anybody, but if you’ve got a better idea or a better plan, I’m all for it.”

With enforcement not available on most county roads, Herrman said speed limit signs do no good, and after checking truck speeds on radar, it was found most were going 55 miles an hour or slower on roads.

“It’s just a matter of fact they’re hauling 70,000 to 90,000 pounds and are hurrying to get there,” he said.

Herrman said a milling machine is available, but milling roads only weakens their integrity.

“Until you decide to mill it and overlay it, it’s not going to hold up to the trucks,” he said.

Wettstein said many of the people complaining about the roads likewise complain about paying taxes.

“I have had a lot of complaints about this,” he said. “I drove on it with my trike, and I drove on it with my pickup. It is pretty rough on Panhandle Road.”

Warden said county officials at one time had signed up with a program in which KDOT officials would look at the integrity of local asphalt roads, but there is a waiting list for that program.

“They’ve got where they’re not very supporting as much as demanding,” Herrman said. “It’s their way or no way, and you can see that with your 54 project and how it’s affecting the county roads out there.”

Wettstein said there are other county roads being addressed by constituents.

“We have people complaining about Meade Lake Road,” he said. “We have people complaining about the Satanta cutoff. We’ve got a lot of roads we’re really going to have to look at doing something with.”

Wettstein said workers with businesses located on some of these roads are creating the issues.

“The dairy runs trucks up and down Meade Lake Road all the time, and they’re the ones hammering it,” he said. “The ethanol plant runs trucks on Panhandle Road hauling mash. We have a lot of trucks running on Kismet Road cutting across that way.”

Commissioner Nathan McCaffrey said options need to be looked at to repair or rebuild roads in a way to handle truck traffic.

“It makes no sense to spend money and do something to a road when we know it’s not going to be able to handle the traffic,” he said.

Herrman said many of the county’s roads have been in place for a long time.

“Nothing lasts forever,” he said. “I’ve been here 26 years, and we’ve asphalted, milled, overlaid and built 12 or 15 miles of road.”

McCaffrey said a good solution would be a work session and prioritizing where work needs to be done in the county.

Warden said the closing of roads due to the work on Hwy. 54 has created much of the problem.

“They are not allowing us to have a say in that,” she said referring to KDOT. “We have residents who have come forward and said that’s our way in and out of our house. I think we have a lot of issues that are going on right now. There’s a lot that goes into this, and you need the expertise of Tony.”

Warden said there are many ways and financial options when talking about the roads.

“I wonder if you would allow us to look at a consultant who could come in, meet with Tony and look at our roads,” she said. “We’re not having luck with KDOT coming in to do an assessment on our asphalt roads like they thought they were going to. We get information in front of commissioners so you can make decisions. They can come in and help us look at everything.”

Warden said Herrman has been trying to put a plan together for some time to deal with road issues in the county. 

“I would like for Tony and I to be able to meet and possibly find a consultant who can help us look at all of this and come to the work session and give you information after we’ve had a chance to prioritize this stuff,” Warden said. “It’s not just our asphalt roads. It’s our country roads too.”

Warden said if a work session does take place, it needs to be done so with the intention finding a solution.

“Are we going to be able to solve any more than what we’ve already been able to solve with the other roads?” she said. “I did the research on the bond issue, but you have constituents who are concerned about their taxes. They’re concerned about the services and the roads they have to. You also have businesses that are relying on those trucks to be able to maintain businesses in our community as well. You guys have a lot of factors to consider. I don’t want us  having another work session and not having any solutions to the problems we keep hammering over and have continued to hammer over. We’re looking for solutions.”

Warden said while problems exists with roads, it is imperative solutions be found.

“Those trucks that are causing the problem are also bringing business and allowing business to happen in our community,” she said. 

July 1 marks the start of the county’s next fiscal year, and Warden said finding solutions before then is also key.

“I would like to do it sooner than later because we’re approaching another budget year,” she said.

Seward County resident Kyle Hayes too said truck traffic is causing hazards on many rural roads. 

“We had 1,176 trucks come up and down Road M yesterday,” he said. “They’ve got that road so beat to death. I was doing 10 miles an hour and slowed down to 2 miles an hour just to get back in here. It took that long to go one mile from my house back to Bluebell just to get in here. It took me almost 10 minutes to drive that mile. It was so rough, and I had eight trucks lined up behind me by the time I got that one mile.”

Wettstein said a solution needs to be found, but heavier traffic numbers happen because of Seward County’s primary industry.

“It’s a problem we’ve had, but it’s a problem we’re going to have because we’re an agricultural community,” he said. “They run a lot of trucks, and it’s going to be a problem we’re going to either have to figure out how to handle it or live with it or solve it somehow. It’s a tough situation.”

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