By KATHY HAGEMAN
Dickinson County public information coordinator
About 15 years ago, Dickinson County Commissioners were first approached about the possibility of paving 1400 Avenue west to the Saline County line where the roadway becomes E. Magnolia Road. Then, if Saline County would do the same from the county line to S. Kipp Road, it would create a direct route from Dickinson County to southern Salina.
While the Dickinson County Commission was generally in favor of the idea, the same couldn’t be said for the Saline County Commission at that time.
“We were never able to get much traction on the idea, but recently someone approached (Dickinson County Commissioner) Ron Roller asking whether 1400 Avenue could be paved over to southern Salina,” said Dickinson County Administrator Brad Homman. “They have a new county administrator and new commission now and they were interested in talking about that.”
The prospect seems feasible. After all, federal BIL (Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) legislation, which allocates approximately $1 trillion to modernize infrastructure and update the nation’s transportation system, means grant money might be available to help fund the project.
The paving project under discussion would include nine miles, running west from Eden Road in Dickinson County, connecting to Kipp Road in Saline County continuing to Magnolia Road. Five of those miles are in Dickinson County, while four are in Saline.
During a meeting last week between Homman, Dickinson County Asst. Administrator/Budget Director Janelle Dockendorf, Saline County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes and Saline County Engineer Justin Mader the economic realities of the project were discussed.
First, before any grant application can even be made, both counties must have engineering studies in place that lay out the basic road plan, including the design, utilities, drainage and other considerations. The total cost for an engineering study is estimated at $900,000, based on current costs of $100,000 a mile.
Dickinson County’s share for its five miles would be around $500,000.
“We have to have the engineering study to show it’s ready for bid. That money would have to come out of our pocket, but we don’t even know if the project would move forward,” Homman said.
As for the paving project, Dockendorf shared that Engineer Mader said the total estimated cost for the completed project could run as high as $13 million, based upon work recently completed in the City of Salina.
If the project was awarded a BIL grant, both counties would then be responsible for a 20 percent match, on top of the money doled out for the engineering study.
“To pay for the local match that would be $1 million a mile in today’s costs and who knows how inflation will continue to impact that?” Homman said. “If it costs between $10 to $13 million to go across there with us providing the 20 percent match on our side, it wouldn’t be cheap by any means.”
On the other hand, the BIL grant is the best opportunity to ever get a paved road into south Salina constructed.
“We would have to rob money from some other road and bridge projects to do the engineering study,” Homman said.
Besides the high cost, the road project itself has challenges. For one, there has to be a 60-foot right of way in both counties to accommodate easements and culverts.
Dickinson County – for the most part – already has ample right of way to meet the requirements and in situations where more is needed, five to 10-feet on either side of the roadway could be purchased.
Saline County, however, would have to purchase a significant amount of land for right of way and also move a cemetery, located about 1 ½ miles west of the county line, because some graves are too close to the road.
Flooding is another problem in Saline County.
“Three miles in, the road drops into the Gypsum valley and they’ve got a mile of flood plain where the Gypsum Creek goes. They’d (engineers) have to figure out to get that road up to the 25-year flood stage so it only runs over every 25 years,” Homman said. “Those things are going to impact negatively.”
That area floods “quite a bit,” he explained, most recently in 2018 and can cover up to three-quarters of a mile.
Homman wondered if there was a reason why the Dickinson/Saline County road was not paved back in the 1930s-40s when the WPA (Works Progress Administration) was doing those type of projects.
“And maybe it was because the south end of Salina didn’t develop until the last couple of decades. Maybe people didn’t see a future need to get into Salina that way,” Homman said.
Commissioners Craig Chamberlin and Lynn Peterson both indicated they did not feel spending $600,000 on an engineering study was cost effective.
“If there’s a 90 percent chance you won’t proceed, why spend the $600,000 and then it’s gone,” Chamberlin said.
“A study doesn’t have much value sitting on the shelf,” Peterson said.
Both said they felt money could be better spent on updating the county-owned portion in the northwest corridor of Abilene. The county has been looking for funding to eventually replace the bridge located just west of Abilene Middle School on NW 14th Street (Old Highway 40), reconfigure the intersection at NW 14th, Van Buren Street and Flag Road and make drainage improvements.
Commissioner Ron Roller asked if there were other, less expensive options, to improve 1400 Avenue, noting that a number of people in his district travel into that part of Saline County.
Homman said that chip sealing would make the base a “little bit more solid,” but that Saline County would also have to do its portion of the road.
Homman and Dockendorf said they would talk to Road and Bridge Supervisor Martin Tannahill about other ways to improve the road and see if Tannahill could reach out to the Saline County road and bridge director about options.