The Kansas Department of Transportation is considering an alternative plan that would save a historic landmark along the Santa Fe Trail.
It will cost money, said Larry Thompson, the KDOT District 6 engineer who oversees that region of Kansas – at least $15 million more than was originally allotted for the $69 million project to widen U.S. 50 west of Dodge City.
But it may save what’s remaining of the Point of Rocks in Ford County by rerouting the highway around the cowboy-silhouetted hilltop.
“I think it would be great if they can do it,” said Leo Oliva, a Santa Fe Trail historian. “The big factor will be the cost. But it is at least encouraging they are considering it.”
KDOT had originally proposed expanding the 16-mile portion of U.S. 50 from Dodge City to Cimarron to four lanes. But public opposition may have caused state transportation officials to reconsider the project.
“Through our discussions the past three months, we have not been able to reach a consensus between all the concerned parties, regarding the best alternative,” Kirk Hutchinson, public affairs manager for KDOT, said in an e-mail. “The design team has recommended a 60-foot option, which they believe would be a safer option, but it would remove a larger chunk of the Point of Rocks.”
Dodge City officials have also supported that option, but Santa Fe Trail supporters want a narrower medium that would remove less of the hilltop. That’s why, Hutchinson said, KDOT officials came up with the option for the highway north of the famous hill, which would not have any impact on the Point of Rocks.
By going north, the option would create an interchange with U.S. 400, take fewer houses in the widening and have less conflict with existing utilities – all of which could save money in the long run.
The disadvantages would be the added project cost of $15 million and that more than two miles of U.S. 50 would be turned over to Ford County as a county road, Hutchinson said. Ford County would be responsible for maintaining the road.
During the first half of the 19th century, the Point of Rocks area helped mark the international boundary between the United States and Mexico, Texas and Spanish territories until 1845, when it became part of the U.S. territory. It was a landmark along the Santa Fe and Great Western trails.
A petition to save the historic hilltop has been circulated among Santa Fe Trail and Kansas history enthusiasts. It can be found at http://www.westerncattletrail.net/point-rocks-petition.
Oliva said he encourages people who would like to save the hill to sign the petition and contact local and state representatives.
“This is an alternate plan,” Oliva said. “It has not been adopted, by any stretch.”