"FOR THE UNHURRIED, THIS LITTLE
KNOWN HIGHWAY IS THE BEST
William Least Heat Moon
US Highway 50 starts on the Chesapeake Bay at Ocean City Delaware and runs across the entire length of the United States ending at the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco, 3200 miles. Time Magazine labeled US 50 as the "Backbone of America' in it's issue of 7-7-97.
In Kansas a majority of it runs roughly on the corridor of the Santa Fe Trail. Along the Kansas part you will pass through, or by places such as Emporia, Strong City, Florence, Peabody, Newton, Hutchinson, Kinsley, Dodge City, Garden City, and Syracuse.
Though it is deemed a 'quiet' highway it carries a large amount of truck traffic. The avoidance of Wichita in the Northeast to Southwest part of Kansas makes this a desirable way to travel.
But looks can be deceiving. It is also one of the most dangerous highways to travel. The two lane route, that should have been made four lane fifty years ago, is fighting the political battle that seems to be Kansas KDOT trademark.
It is not as though work has not been done to the highway it is just not enough and has taken way too long. The numbers may not look so bad on accident frequency, but ask any fire, EMS, or Sheriff, it is the grinding nature of the accidents and the high numbers of fatalities per wreck that set US 50 apart.
KDOT has had a long history of having their coffers raided by Governors and legislators for the amount of revenue that comes in off of every gallon of fuel you buy. Under cover of having the second best roads in the nation projects get delayed and canceled and the money sent to other places.
We also have created a bureaucracy that takes more than 12 years to propose a highway project and building it. Sometimes more. Also there seems to be no logical procedure to build a highway where it is the most economical and logical to build. A perfect example of this is on US 54/400 through the swamps of the Ninnescah River Valley and the Kingman Wildlife area.
Traveling down US 50 can be very deceiving because it is a really good road. There are places where it is a Super Two highway. However, the passing lanes are too few and too short.
The 'killing machine' that was Yoder Road and US 50 has finally been fixed with an interchange and a short section of four lane road. The construction of that project has been long enough for babies to be born and in school not knowing how it was before.
KDOT is holding hearings about the addition of passing lanes and improvements from Emporia to Newton right now. There is the plan of adding 18 more passing lanes and some extensions. The numbers of locals have not been great turning out for the hearings and that is a shame. When the State does take time for your opinion it should be taken advantage of. In the past KDOT has not paid much attention to what people think but with the uproar over the Point of Rocks near Dodge they are showing a willingness to take into account the feelings of the people.
Going back 50 years the cost of building a four lane limited access highway would probably be what the upgrades are now. One thing that is certain it is never cheaper to wait on building a highway.
The Interstate system came from Kansas and it is the last part of the system that never got built. We have been saddled with expensive requirements for new highways and it is not necessary to go full interstate specs to build safe and effective highways. The minute we set on our laurels and crow about being number two in roads we will soon be passed by. We pride ourselves on our economy and work ethic but we cannot lead the nation in prosperity without continual upgrades to our infrastructure.
Next time I will take on another Kansas highway.