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If county pays share of I-235 project in cash, Ranzau might go along

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, at 6:58 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, at 6:58 a.m.

One of two Sedgwick County commissioners who voted against providing $11.6 million toward a project to reconstruct the Kellogg and I-235 interchange says he might change his mind if the county pays its share in cash instead of borrowing the money.

Commissioners Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau voted Wednesday against signing an agreement with the Kansas Department of Transportation and city of Wichita promising that the county would provide the 10 percent local match for the $116 million project. Both said the city should have anted up the money. And Ranzau said the state should be paying for the entire project anyway.

The county has planned to provide the local match by diverting $3.1 million a year in federal funds that normally would be used for county roads and bridges to the project for three years and to borrow the remainder of the match, $2.3 million.

Ranzau said Friday he doesn’t think the county should go further in debt for the project.

“If (the other commissioners are) willing to pay cash, I might be able to go along with it,” Ranzau said.

Commissioners deadlocked on the agreement Wednesday. Board member Jim Skelton was on vacation. Commissioners Tim Norton and Dave Unruh voted to sign the agreement.

Peterjohn and Ranzau both suggested putting the vote off until Skelton returned, but there wasn’t support to do that. County Manager William Buchanan said he learned Monday that Skelton would be gone Wednesday and would miss the meeting.

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell said the city and county had agreed that the city would pay the local match for other projects while the county would pay for the Kellogg and I-235 match.

Longwell said Peterjohn, whose commission seat he sought unsuccessfully, and Ranzau “don’t acknowledge that much of their money comes from Wichita.”

The Eagle looked at accident data from the Kansas Department of Transportation and found that a third of the drivers involved in accidents at the Kellogg and I-235 interchange live outside Wichita. There were 305 drivers involved in accidents at the interchange from 2009 through 2011. Of those drivers, 200, or about 65 percent, were from Wichita. The rest were from other cities in the county and Kansas.

“That’s even more telling. That’s exactly my point. Everybody in the county uses it,” Longwell said of the interchange.

Of the commission, he said, “I just think that a couple of them are taking the wrong approach and don’t represent their constituency in Wichita very well.”

“Jeff and I had a lively exchange of opinions earlier this year, and the voters rendered their verdict,” Peterjohn said in response.

Ranzau said Friday that he understands county residents use the interchange.

But he noted that “we levy taxes so we can take care of our responsibilities, and they (the city) levy taxes to take care of their responsibilities.”

Ranzau said he’s not opposed to the project but thinks there is a better way to do it without jeopardizing county roads and bridges. He doesn’t want to borrow money for the match, and he’s concerned about diverting the county’s federal funds for the rest of it. He said he’s concerned about the county’s own roads and bridges.

Peterjohn said he also has concerns about the county paying for the local match when the city has failed to take care of roads adjacent to areas it has annexed from the county. He said doing so has cost the county $500,000 to $700,000 a year.

“The cities are not in compliance with state law in some cases when it comes to their annexations,” Peterjohn said.

He emphasized that “I don’t disagree that that intersection needs to be done.”

But he said he voted last year against including the match in the county’s capital improvement plan, voted against signing the agreement Wednesday and will again.

“Other cities could come and say, ‘OK, if you’re going to help Wichita, what’s in it for us?’ ” Peterjohn said.

Unruh, who voted for the agreement, said he might go along with a plan to pay cash for the match.

“I think I would perhaps be agreeable when it comes to the time to make that decision. I hate to make that decision two years in advance. But I think the concept has merit, and I’d be willing to think about it,” Unruh said.

Norton, who is chairman of the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he also would consider it. WAMPO focuses on transportation issues, and the Kellogg and I-235 interchange was its top priority.

“I’m always open to suggestions,” he said. “We’ve used cash on projects in the past. If it’s available and wouldn’t affect our reserves, it would be a tool in our toolbox.”

Of the project itself, Norton said, “I’m hopeful it moves forward. People are pretty supportive of fixing that infrastructure, and Wichitans pay taxes.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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