Increased traffic takes toll on Old 169
Traffic counts along the old Highway 169 have spiked 300 percent since construction began on U.S. 169, from 8,100 vehicles a week to nearly 23,000.
To answer Humboldt resident Larry Mendoza’s question, “Why weren’t there any updates or maintenance on local two-lane roads before closing portions of 169?” the short answer is: Don’t know, but hindsight is 20-20.
When KDOT laid out a detour that followed U.S. 54 to Yates Center, south on U.S. 75 and then back to U.S. 169 on K-39 at the northwest edge of Chanute, adoption of the shorter, and unofficial, detour of 20 miles between Iola and Humboldt was predictable. Within days of U.S. 169 being closed, truckers and other motorists seized the opportunity to drive the much shorter route rather than close to 50 miles on the official detour.
The result? Mitch Garner, director of Public Works for Allen County, reports that traffic counts along the old Highway 169 have spiked 300 percent since construction began on U.S. 169, from 8,100 vehicles a week to nearly 23,000. Anyone who has driven on the old highway between Iola and Humboldt, and on south toward Chanute, is well aware of the consequences.
Yet prior to the old Highway 169 becoming the default detour while the newer portion of the highway is being rebuilt, no extraordinary measures occurred to improve its surface.
After the traffic increased, some repairs were done on either side of the viaduct south of Iola over the Southwind Trail and were repeated.
Garner said potholes and other road failures have been repaired as needed. Chip-seal treatment of roads are scheduled in advance. However, commissioners are considering at least some stretches of mill and overlay because of specific damage along the route.
“We’ll do the best we can” to improve the road’s driving surface, said County Commissioner Bill King. But, chimed in Commission Chairman Jerry Daniels, funding is key.
While the county has about $3 million in reserve, part of that is earmarked for construction of ambulance stations in Humboldt and Moran, estimated at $300,000 each.
Another potential source of funding is the Kansas Department of Transportation. Commissioners have asked Darrin Petrowsky, local KDOT engineer, and others associated with the state agency if the county might expect redress, as the reconstruction of U.S. 169 has caused the road to be battered by heavy traffic. The answer has been: Maybe, but with no official commitment.
“We’ll keep asking,” Daniels said.
The best way to repair the road, said Garner, would be to mill away two inches of its surface and add a new layer of asphalt. Soft spots, such as those on either side of the viaduct, would require more attention.
A full mill and overlay of the road, including north of Iola and south of Humboldt, would be ideal but may not be financially realistic. Consequently, only extensive upgrades on the most severe problems will be completed.
All told, Garner thinks up to 17 miles (34 lanes miles) of the old highway and access roads, such as Hawaii Road at the north edge of Humboldt and Minnesota Road, often referred to as Airport Road, should be upgraded as soon as fiscally feasible.
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