Two projects moving forward in Harvey County have come to an intersection, as work is currently being done by the Health Harvey Coalition's Walk and Roll Harvey leadership team to help Hesston with a master biking/walking plan for the city — including a potential walking/biking path that would connect Hesston and Newton along Old US-81 highway (Hesston Road).
Meanwhile, the Harvey County Road and Bridge Department is developing modification plans for that same stretch of Hesston Road — something that has been in the works for a few years.
With both projects coming to a convergence, the Harvey County Commission discussed potential paths forward at a meeting this week.
How either project moves forward is tied to the other in some way, namely regarding creation of the path — whether that is done through simply widening Hesston Road as part of the the planned modifications or an entirely new path is constructed.
"The preferred, from the community standpoint, is a separated biking/walking path," said Healthy Harvey coordinator Lorrie Kessler.
Similar to the walking/biking path expansion currently happening in North Newton, a separate path from Hesston to Newton was proposed to be placed 30 feet from Hesston Road. Additionally, the Kansas Department of Transportation has announced the 2021 Transportation Alternatives program, which will provide funding for a variety of projects like this (pedestrian paths, bicycle facilities, etc.). It is estimated $7 million in federal funds will be available for the entire program in 2021.
A 20% local match is required with the Transportation Alternatives program, but it's an additional requirement that brought all parties involved to the table this week. The county engineering firm would need to be utilized to develop a feasibility study, conceptual designs and cost estimates for a potential grant application.
Doing such a study requires both Harvey County Road and Bridge and Healthy Harvey have set paths forward with their given projects. Road and bridge superintendent Jim Meier's focus is squarely on the road, with questions raised about the additional burdens (impacting possible drainage improvements) a new path could create.
"I think my responsibility is somewhat geared towards the motorists. What I'm trying to do is improve a road that desperately needs to be improved and also prevent an ongoing maintenance issue," Meier said. "That doesn't take a bike path to accomplish."
Commissioners also questioned if the installation of a Hesston Road path would lead to more requests from other county communities in the future, but Kessler pointed out that Walk and Roll Harvey is working with each town — and, eventually, the county — on their own individual biking/walking master plans.
On top of that, Kessler pointed out private entities will be sought out to help with funding the path, but those initial costs do need to be sorted out before anything can move forward.
"We need a concept cost of what it's going to take. Everybody knows it's going to take x amount of dollars to do this," Commission Chair Chip Westfall said. "We need a conceptual cost. We don't need a design cost; we need a conceptual cost."
Maintenance concerns — like with the North Newton pathway extension — were brought up by Meier, but County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber said that is an issue to bring up further down the road. Currently, the twin development of the pathway and Hesston Road maintenance plans simply facilitated a discussion about moving forward.
Given the safety concerns with other biking paths used around the county (i.e. the Transamerica trail), commissioners also voiced feedback similar to what was heard from the Hesston community as part of its master plan.
"I would think, don't add on to the road. Make that bike and walking path off the road," said Commissioner Ron Krehbiel. "I would say definitely look at a separate path."