The economic impact of a bypass around Pratt won’t be known until it happens sometime several in the future.
The results of a Kansas Department of Transportation application for $87.5 million in federal stimulus funds to build a 10.5-mile bypass around Kingman are expected sometime in December. Kingman could soon be facing that issue if the application is accepted.
But is a bypass around a city a death knell for downtown businesses or is it an opportunity for growth?
When a bypass went around Parsons, the town was divided into two groups on the construction. One group thought it would severely hurt the economy and another group thought it would help recruit more business, said Rikki Hess, Parsons Chamber of Commerce executive vice president.
Eventually the bypass did a little of both. There was some negative impact and some positive impact. More people came to town because it was easier to get off the highway. Some locals went out to the bypass to get across town because it was faster.
Parsons is now able to attract more business because of the better access. A couple of industrial parks have developed at the interchange because trucks have easy access and don’t have to fight street traffic, Hess said.
“I’m not going to sit here and say this is the best thing that happened to us,” Hess said. “Traffic did slow down.”
The bypass did slow traffic down and did affect some businesses but others migrated to the interchange.
Parsons was also a bit lucky with their location. They are the only place between Wichita and Pittsburg to stop. They have also put up signage and that helps get traffic into town.
Parsons has learned a valuable lesson from the bypass. When businesses are looking for a place to locate want to know the population, what restaurants are in place and eventually they all want to know where is the nearest highway and is it two lane or four lane.
If you don’t have that, they aren’t coming, Hess said.
Parsons is just one town with a bypass. Many others across the country have also had to deal with a bypass. The Economic Development Research Group conducted a survey of the economic impact bypasses had on towns in several states including Kansas. The study, conducted in 1996 by David Buress, of the Institute for Public Policy and Business Research at the University of Kansas, drew several conclusions:
• No significant long-term negative effects on the local economy. Many towns and communities had long-term benefits from construction.
• Bypasses probably did not have negative short-term effects on the town as a whole but did have some transitory impact on some businesses including travel related businesses like restaurants, bars, motels and service stations. Not all travel related businesses were negatively impacted.
Page 2 of 2 - • Some towns could have permanent gains and permanent losses. Some businesses my have chosen to go out of business rather than adjust to circumstances caused by the bypass. Those businesses were typically replaced with other firms.
• Other factors affected the economies of small towns and individual firms and those factors together are substantially more important the bypasses.
If the Kingman bypass project gets the grant money it will be a hard fought battle. The Kingman project is one of four KDOT proposed for Kansas that total $262 million, said Stan Whitley, KDOT information specialist.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant has a total of $1.5 billion available funds and several states are actively competing for those funds so it will be difficult for every program seeking the grant.
“It’s going to be an aggressive battle for those funds,” Whitley said.
A bypass is also planned for Pratt but there are no funds available at this time for that project. No funds are available for any other part of the corridor improvement other than the 10-mile section, including a bypass around Cunningham, currently under construction in eastern Pratt County and western Kingman County.
If the Kingman bypass is funded it will have no impact on the Pratt bypass. With no funds available, the Pratt bypass will have to stand alone on its own merits sometime in the future when funds become available, Whitley said.
The Kingman bypass is part of a larger project to expand U.S. 54 to a four-lane highway from Kingman to the junction of U.S. 400 near Mullinville.