The Leavenworth County Commission Monday approved a new set of road priorities as well as a revised version of one program used to fund them.
It’s not the beginning of the county’s participatory road program, in which residents who live along one of the roads identified by the county as priorities can have their road pave by donating easements, but it is the memorializing of the rules for the program, according to County Public Works Director Mike Spickelmier. But the proposal had multiple aims, he said.
“It’s pretty much putting in writing things we’ve been talking about for the last couple years,” he said.
It lays out the rules of the program for both the county and the residents who might take advantage of the opportunity, Spickelmier said. It also expands the number of eligible miles of road from five to 15 and changes some of the procedures under which the program had previously been operating.
“We don’t have the ability to go out and design 15 miles of road. So we’ve changed the process a little that says ‘OK, we will design the road after we get affidavits of willingness to participate,’” he said.
Spickelmier said the department would prepare and send out letters to all of the landowners along the eligible stretches of road. Then he said public works would host a public meeting with those property owners to inform them of the program and their role in it.
Under the participatory road program, If 100 percent of the residents along a listed mile of gravel roadway agree to donate the necessary easements to the county, Spickelmier said the county will engineer and design improvements, pick up material and labor costs and construct a new paved road. Most recently, this model was used to construct a mile of 163rd Street south a half-mile from Fairmount Road. Spickelmier said even those projects that are not immediately picked for paving could be subject to interim improvements to alignment.
The program can be advantageous for both sides — Spickelmier said residents get an upgraded road, while the county saves on what are often one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of building a new road.
“When you spend as much on acquiring right-of-way as it costs you to surface the road, it’s hard,” he said. “I mean, everybody wants to keep their taxes as low as possible, and this is one way that we found that we can help offset those costs, by having everybody together.”
It also helps the county fill in some of the “loose ends” in terms of paved roads. Spickelmier reminded the commission that residents would still have control over the same property that they do now.
“We’re not owning anything,” Spickelmier said of the easement donation requirement. “All we’re asking for is easement, which is permission to operate the roadway in front of their property.”
Page 2 of 2 - Spickelmier said, however, that the county may need a larger easement than exists right now, if the design of the road requires it.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber said he thought it was also important for the commission to remind the residents along the selected roads that the list was fluid.
“When you put a list like this out, you send to the people a message that ‘you’re No. 1, you’re No. 2,’” he said. “That concerns me.”
Commission Chairman John Flower said though the program’s priority list is subject to some change, the selection is still based on a number of criteria. County Administrator Pat Hurley agreed.
“It’s all subject to meeting the requirements of the participatory road program,” he said.
Flower suggested the county eliminate the priority numbers in order to avoid the appearance of hierarchy within the listed projects. The commissioners agreed before approving the policy for the participatory road program. The commission also approved a list of priorities.