Work continues on expanding U.S. 54 in Pratt and Kingman Counties from two-lanes to four-lanes but a group met in Pratt Friday that is working on a much bigger project: the expansion of 54 to a four-lane system from Wichita to El Paso, Texas at the Mexican Boarder.
Formed in 1995, the Southwest Passage Initiative for Regional and Interstate Transportation is dedicated to making all 741 miles from Wichita to El Paso a four-lane highway system. Currently, 348 miles are four-lane with 455 miles still two-lane in the SPIRIT project.
Meeting at Pratt Community College Friday, representatives from departments of transportation from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico presented updates on the progress in their states.
Some expansion projects are currently underway such as those in Pratt and Kingman Counties while in New Mexico work is under way on a 160-mile stretch from Tularosa to Santa Rosa.
Oklahoma passed a comprehensive transportation bill in 1997 that included all 60 miles of U.S. 54 in the panhandle. So far 50 miles have been completed.
Funding the project is an issue in all four states.
Jerry Younger, deputy secretary of transportation for the Kansas Department of Transportation said that KDOT has several projects shelf ready to go if more funding becomes available.
Ron Johnston, district engineer for Texas Department of Transportation, said six of their current 11 projects at on 54.
Budget constraints are a big issue in Texas that has over 80,000 miles of roads with lots of road repair issues involving traffic damage from the booming oil and gas industry. They also have to preserve the rest of their road system.
It costs $2.5 million to pave a two-lane mile in Texas in the 54 corridor and $5 million to $6 million to pave a mile of four-lane. More improvements are planned when funding becomes available.
Matt Grush, deputy secretary of transportation for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said it costs about $2 million a mile to build a four-lane highway and that maintenance costs double when the highway is a four-lane.
They were able to shift some $30 million in undedicated funds from one district to a 54 project. Getting the 54 to a four-lane status is important because from 70 to 76 percent of traffic on 54 in New Mexico is truck traffic.
With activity in four states, it is important to keep communication open among all the departments of transportation.
On an average day in Pratt, 8,600 vehicles travel 54 so getting the highway changed to four-lanes is important for volume and safety.
Scott Mullen, KDOT area engineer, reviewed the current expansion in Pratt and Kingman Counties. The first project, including the Cunningham bypass, cost $60 million for an average cost of $10 per mile.
The second project, currently under way, covers 13 miles in two counties and cost $66.8 million at a cost of $5 million. They are scheduled for completion from August to October in 2014.
Before the end of 2013, traffic on 54 will be rerouted onto the shoofly at 70th Avenue to bypass the intersection so the hill can be removed down to the new grade level.
Some work on the 54 project is has also taken place from the Oklahoma to Liberal.
Coming up but not any time soon are the 11-mile long Pratt bypass and the 9.7 mile Kingman bypass.
No funds area available for these projects but KDOT is ready to move on the projects if unexpected funds become available, Younger said.
Work on a new comprehensive transportation bill will start in 2016 with implementation set for 2020.