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KDOT moves ahead with plan to close Russell rest area

1/22/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- It was a partial victory for those who wanted to preserve a place to pull off Interstate 70.

While the Kansas Department of Transportation is moving ahead with plans to remove the buildings and water services at the rest area east of Russell, the agency plans to keep the parking areas open.

"The parking areas will remain open to give travelers a place to get out and walk around," KDOT maintenance engineer Joe Finley said in a statement issued Wednesday. "But the buildings and water services at this location will be removed."

KDOT first announced in late December it was considering closing the facilities due to increasing water uses in an area struggling to meet water demands from users.

Much of the water used at the rest areas went to keep lagoons at proper levels, especially during summer months when evaporation rates are high.

The city of Russell, in coping with water shortages and high water use during summer months, remains in its most stringent water stage, banning outside use. Russell also asked its bigger users to try to reduce water consumption by at least 25 percent.

That request prompted KDOT to consider closing both the east- and westbound rest areas approximately 2 miles east of Russell.

Water use at the two sites has increased from nearly 800,000 gallons in 2011 to what likely was expected to be nearly 1.6 million gallons last year. That's equal to water use in five households, Finley said at the time KDOT asked for public comments on the idea of closing the rest areas.

The cost of water has increased from more than $5,000 to more than $9,000 last year.

"We received considerable feedback," Finley said. "It is positive when the public provides input and helps shape the outcome."

He received 73 emails about the proposed closing, the first wave all in favor of shutting the rest areas down.

But the tide turned soon after word about the possible closing surfaced and opposition formed.

In the end, many of the people voicing opinions said they really just wanted someplace to be able to pull off and stretch their legs.

That's the driving force behind the decision to tear down the buildings, but leave the parking area intact.

Beginning the week of March 3, the rest areas will be closed for a week while KDOT crews move in and tear down the buildings.

Finley said the construction debris likely will be hauled off to the Russell County landfill rather than use it to fill in the lagoons. The lagoons, he said, will need to follow a specific protocol to shut down.

The parking area will reopen after the work is completed.