An unwelcome burden

When Kansas Department of Transportation floated the idea Monday of Marion County taking over state highways into Marion, Goessel, and Lehigh, the county commissioners were rightly skeptical. The county has its hands full maintaining the blacktop roads it already has. Why would it want to add almost six miles more?

KDOT’s initial suggestion was paying $200,000 per mile of road to the county in return for taking charge of these highways. For the simple roadways without any bridges, that would take care of maintenance for a little while, but chip sealing roads is expensive, and overlays are prohibitively expensive on the county’s budget.

Plus, drivers would be negatively impacted by the change in who maintains the roads. Marion County doesn’t generally salt roadways to deal with snow and ice; it simply plows them. I don’t think most drivers would like to see that change in maintenance.

Where the idea of taking over these roads really falls apart as a good idea for the county, though, is K-256 west of Marion. In about one mile, K-256 crosses the Cottonwood River twice. There is no way Marion County can afford to add two large bridges to its inventory. The county would have to put any money it received from KDOT away in a fund to pay for the eventual replacement of those bridges, and it would have to increase taxes so it could put away additional money every single year. Road and Bridge Superintendent Randy Crawford said replacing even one of those bridges would cost millions of dollars.

The quarter mile of K-215 into Goessel wouldn’t be a terrible burden, but it would be more suitable as a city street than a county road. Likewise, K-168 into Lehigh wouldn’t be unbearably expensive for the county to keep up; and it makes a little more sense as a county road than K-215 does.

Even taking on K-256 from Marion east to U.S. 77 wouldn’t be terrible, although it would certainly be doing the state a favor. I’m not sure if the state has given the county much reason in recent years to do it any favors, but maybe the commission is more interested in being charitable to the state than I am.

But taking over K-256 from the west edge of Marion to U.S. 56 would be tremendously foolhardy. Under no circumstances should the county commission consider, even for a moment, taking responsibility for two large bridges.

If the county does accept the other sections of highway KDOT wants to unload, it should still negotiate for something more important than money. Marion County should try to get a highway-quality road built into Pilsen for all the tourists and pilgrims interested in learning about Marion County’s candidate for sainthood. I don’t think the full length of Remington Road from U.S. 56 to 290th Road would be feasible to get out of the state, but what about from 290th to the south end of Pilsen? It wouldn’t be as direct of a route for visitors coming from the south, but it would be worth the few extra miles to take blacktop the whole way.

Eventually the county needs to pave from Pilsen south to U.S. 56, but it needs to get some kind of good blacktop into Pilsen immediately. KDOT really wants to unload highway miles. Now is the county’s opportunity to play hardball.

— ADAM STEWART

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