Jobs, water source remain top priorities, Wichitans say

By Bill Wilson

The Wichita Eagle


The message didn't change Monday afternoon at CityArts: Wichitans want the city to grow, fueled by a stable water source and new jobs.

City planners are rolling out the specifics for Wichita's growth over the next two decades -- and the multibillion-dollar bill for the improvements to fuel that growth.

Monday's meeting was the first of four open houses asking the public to help shape the city's future. The next is from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Alford Branch Library, 3447 S. Meridian.

The city's Community Investments Plan Steering Committee has concluded that Wichita is $9 billion to $10 billion short of what it needs to maintain and enhance existing public assets -- roads, water and sewer mains, a water supply and public buildings like Century II -- over the next 20 years. The committee is leading work on a new comprehensive plan through 2035.

"They're trying to do the impossible," said Max Weddle, a retired aviation design engineer who said he has attended all of the comprehensive planning meetings that produced Monday's presentation.

"They're trying to look into the future, and that's difficult to predict," Weddle said. "If we could, we'd all be rich."

City staff acknowledged the challenges.

"These are issues we can't solve all at once," said Dave Barber, the advanced plans manager for the city and county. "But if we can identify the decision-making process and the criteria for making those decisions, that's a huge step."

Old Town Association president Jason Van Sickle said his organization supports the initial city priorities.

"I really feel like the key things we are interested in in Old Town the city is already focused on," Van Sickle said. "Infrastructure issues like parking, public safety issues."

The steering committee says the city expects about $4 billion in revenue over the next two decades to spend on roads, water mains and public buildings.

The city needs between $13 billion and $14 billion in the same time frame. For example, 38 percent of the city's streets, utilities and facilities are in deficient or fair condition due to "decades of under-investment in infrastructure maintenance," according to the report.

One big driver for the shortfall, the committee's report indicates, is diminishing funding from the federal and state government, slow job and population growth, and static property values -- all products of the recession that began in 2008.

The steering committee has settled on these three growth scenarios for Wichita for the next 20 years:

-- Maintaining the emphasis on suburban development with little activity in the city's core, the pattern of the past 20 years.

This scenario proposes 403 miles of new local streets and water, sewer and stormwater lines, along with 42 miles of new arterial streets, water and sewer mains and more than 7 million gallons a day of increased sewer treatment capacity.

-- Constrained suburban growth, allowing for specific issues that have arisen as Wichita has spread out, primarily to the east.

The only direct change from the suburban development is 30 miles, rather than 42, of new arterial streets, water and sewer mains.

City growth has bumped against the rural water districts on the east side, according to city staff. For developers to develop on the east side and have city water and sewer, those rural water districts want compensation for the loss of their service area. That can raise the cost for developments -- costs that would be paid first by the city, then passed on to developers.

This scenario also includes the indefinite postponement of the $400 million northwest bypass, based on a lack of state and federal funding.

-- A mix of suburban and core growth, targeting a larger core area of the city than just downtown. Included would be 369 miles of new local streets and water, sewer and stormwater lines. This option includes improvements for the Wichita Transit system.

Wichitan Jane Byrnes said she chose this option, because "we have a lot of empty spaces we can fill. Everywhere." She's also a big advocate of transit and alternative transportation.

The comprehensive plan update is required by state law to guide spending.

The remainder of this year will be devoted to choosing one of the three scenarios and developing a draft plan, using input from the community. Work also will begin on plans for the county's suburban cities. The plan is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

The meeting was time well spent, Byrnes said.

"Sometimes democracy doesn't work," she said. "They listen to the rich and no one else."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle