Sunday, December 9, 2007


The state of Kansas has purchased less than 1 percent of the land needed for the proposed Northwest Bypass.

But the state hopes to raise that considerably with one buy: about 100 acres owned by longtime west-side land investor John Dugan.

If it completes the sale, the state will have about 7.5 percent of the land locked up.

Dugan and various trusts that he controls have accumulated about 700 acres of land along Kellogg from 183rd Street West to Goddard.

Dugan said the state has made him an offer. He told them it was too low, and now he's waiting for another offer.

"That's typical of their way of dealing," Dugan said. "I'm not upset about it. I'm just waiting to hear back."

Locking up land at either end of the bypass is the state's first priority because that is the land most likely to be developed first, said KDOT spokesman Tom Hein.

Lacking sufficient money, the state has to use regulatory tricks to keep land costs down -- and hope that development pressure doesn't get too great before it gets the money.

The state is also negotiating with property owners south of Maize, between 37th and 45th Streets north. It has acquired about 8 acres overall.

The state estimates it will need to buy about 1,350 acres, which it thinks will cost $30 million to $40 million or more as inflation and development drive up land costs. One estimate has the cost as high as $55 million.

But the state has only about $13 million for land acquisition. It won't get any more money until a new highway bill is passed by the Legislature in 2009 or 2010.

"It's more of a marathon than a sprint," Hein said.

KDOT estimates the cost of highway construction will be $500 million.

To keep land costs down, local governments have created a highway corridor overlay. Whenever a landowner applies to rezone land in the highway right of way, it sets off a warning bell at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Planning Department.

Planners would try to persuade the land owner not to build in the right of way.

Most of the land is zoned to allow houses on 5-acre lots. Planning Director John Schlegel said planners would be reluctant to allow a developer to rezone for dense housing.

Putting dense development in the right of way wouldn't help anyone, he said.

"That would be stupid," he said.

But, if the land doesn't need to be rezoned, the government would have to grant a landowner's building permit -- or the state would be forced to buy the land.

"But we're hoping that by sitting down with them and explaining that this is where the road is proposed to go, they would be willing to build their structures outside of that right of way," Schlegel said.

Schlegel said it wouldn't make sense to build in the right of way -- unless somebody were trying to drive up the price of the land.

This is the way development started for K-96 on the northeast side of the city. But that construction accelerated in 1986 when real estate investor George Ablah donated 2 miles of right of way across his property. Ablah donated the land to drive up the value of his other land along K-96.

But on the west side there are no landowners with a large percentage of the right of way other than Dugan.

Howard Lubliner, the KDOT official who directs the project, said he doesn't expect anyone to accumulate land and donate it to the state. But he does foresee landowners' interest growing as the highway becomes more real, perhaps leading them to make their way to the KDOT offices to sell their right of way.

"As we make progress in construction, we hope developers will see it as a future highway and start to work with us," he said.

pitch has been the same for years: Building a four-lane U.S. Highway 69 from Kansas City to I-44 could boom economic development for the area ― and possibly allow Pittsburg to compete with some of the bigger area cities.

"I think all of that has been very well documented," said Allen Gill, Pittsburg City Manager. "The benefits are just enormous.

"We have also been assured that KDOT is making Highway 69 one of their top highway priorities," Gill said.

But with the current Comprehensive Transportation Plan ending in 2009, and no visible plan yet to shape, no one knows when that project will be completed. For one thing, the highway, while it is a high priority, is what Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, called a "mega project."

"Certainly I'm going to be supporting any and all money down the corridor," said Menghini, who also serves on the House transportation committee. "But the state keeps a list of so-called mega projects, and the 69 corridor is one of them.

"By the time it is done, it will require several overpasses and those sorts of things, which are very expensive," Menghini said. "I do believe it will be done at some point, but whether it will get done in one transportation plan, it's hard to justify spending that much money in one area of the state."

What's worse is that the state already mortgaged its future with the 1999 to 2009 CTP. That plan, which started off as a $12.6 billion plan including nearly $1 billion in bonds, a 4-cent per gallon motor fuel tax plus an increase to the state highway fund out of state sales tax moneys, fell up at least somewhat short. That plan was supplemented by local matching funds and federal money, but still shot over what the state expected to play.

"We had to finance it in ways we hadn't anticipated, including a lot more bonding than we planned on," said Sen. Jim Barone, D-Frontenac. "The projects themselves are coming along nicely, and I think we need to do another plan. But the devil is in the details of how you're going to finance it. We decided to go with pay me later as opposed to pay me now. Well, later is here."

The financing problem, along with the complexity of a plan, is what makes Menghini believe a plan won't come for another year, though she said she thinks the foundation for that plan will come this year. KDOT is now traveling around the state, holding town hall meetings and discussing the future for the plan.

For one thing, the plan doesn't appear that it is going to be just highway-based. There will also likely be funding for local airports, mass transit and bus systems and short-line railroads.

"The role of all of those is vital," Gill said. "Rail helps to take hundreds of trucks off our highways. It's all connected. You have to think of a comprehensive strategy, but in terms of talking about specific projects, it will probably be a while."

And while 69 will be a priority, Rep. Bob Grant said it was important to mention it wouldn't be taken care of it one fell swoop.

"Honestly, in my own opinion, to finish out the corridor with the two bypasses, I think that's a little too big a package to put into one plan," Grant said. "It's probably going to linger out there for a while.

"There are just so many other things you have to look at," Grant said. "You have to see where there are increases in population and increases in the amount of vehicles. It's a hell of a big package."

Menghini said the four-lane 69 to Fort Scott should be finished in November 2008, and said it was an example of why the plan was so successful.

"I think all our roads are in the 80 or 90 percent, and that's way up from the first highway program," Menghini said. "It's been tremendous. Hopefully, the next one will be even more successful, and not just on highways, but with transit and air.

"The only question is: Are we willing to generate the revenue to have a first-class comprehensive transportation plan?" Menghini said. "If the answer is yes, then we can start working to improve."


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