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County debates funds for interchange

Tim Norton called for a "count to 10" recess before walking out of a Sedgwick County Commission meeting Tuesday, as board members argued about whether to kick in money to redo the interchange at Kellogg and I-235 in west Wichita.

At one point, Commissioner Richard Ranzau interrupted Chairman Dave Unruh, leading to a brief but testy dust-up.

Norton was sitting between them. He got up and said, "I think this is a good time for a recess." He said later he didn't want to reach the same level of frustration.

Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn questioned why the city was asking the county to kick in money for the interchange facelift, one of several projects being considered by the state.

Ranzau said he learned about the possible project only eight days ago and didn't understand why commissioners were being pushed to make a decision so quickly. The board is scheduled to vote today on whether to kick in $11.6 million as a match for the potential state-funded project. The state would provide $104.4 million for the first phase, which would eliminate two cramped clover-leaf loops that have caused traffic accidents.

The Kansas Department of Transportation would redesign the interchange and manage the project if it is chosen under the T-WORKS program, the $8.2 billion, 10-year transportation funding package approved by the Kansas Legislature last year.

The first phase of the interchange would include new flyovers linking southbound I-235 to eastbound Kellogg, and westbound Kellogg to northbound I-235.

County Manager William Buchanan started the meeting Tuesday by explaining that if the city and county don't come up with matching funds, state dollars will go to other projects across the state.

The $11.6 million would be for the first phase of the project and cover about 10 percent, city engineer Jim Armour told commissioners. Commissioners are not voting today on future phases.

Norton, the chairman of the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group focused on transportation, said the interchange "has worn out its usefulness."

From 2004 to 2008, there were 243 accidents resulting in 79 injuries and one fatality at the location, according to the Kansas Department of Transportation.

More than 130,000 vehicles pass through the intersection each day.

Norton called its facelift the most important transportation project in the area.

But Peterjohn said, "All this popped up suddenly."

Ranzau said there were too many unanswered questions for his comfort.

"This partnering thing is just a euphemism for someone wanting our money," Ranzau said, arguing that the city and state should fund the project.

The city has committed $78 million to other projects, including continued improvements to east Kellogg.

Commissioner Jim Skelton said the project is not about the city, the county, or the state but about the people who live here.

Ranzau apologized to Unruh for interrupting him during the discussion.

"That's OK," Unruh answered.

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