Gov. Jeff Colyer told a contingent of southeast Kansans on Wednesday the state might be able to speed development of a $57.4 million project to complete conversion of US-69 into a four-lane highway.

Colyer told an audience at Pittsburg State University it could be possible to shave months off the advance planning period leading to construction work on widening the final 11.4-mile stretch of highway. US-69 runs through Kansas from Pittsburg to the Kansas City area.

The Kansas Department of Transportation, which is currently involved in a 6-mile upgrade to US-69, wants to address the remainder of the project in two phases. KDOT expects to issue contracts for the section from Pittsburg to Arma in fall 2019 and the section from Arma to the Bourbon County line in fall 2020, said KDOT spokeswoman Laurie Arellano.

“The 69 corridor is essential for the state of Kansas,” said Colyer, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in the August primary. “I think we can do this faster and that’s why we’re announcing this today.”

The governor said it was conceivable groundbreaking for the next phase of US-69 could occur next summer instead of the fall or winter.

The effort to overhaul the old two-lane highway along the state’s eastern border has been in the works for decades. In 2014, then-Gov. Sam Brownback made a campaign pledge to finish the job for economic and safety reasons. A state budget crisis led Brownback to delay two-dozen highway projects in 2016, but later that year he decided to allocate about $20 million for upgrading a 6-mile section of US-69.

In 2016, Democrats in the Legislature claimed Brownback had political motives for making an exception on US-69. Senate Majority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Tuesday that Colyer was similarly raising expectations about US-69 in the midst of the 2018 campaign.

The 2018 Legislature provided a $59 million appropriation to KDOT to nibble away at unfinished T-Works infrastructure projects that had been postponed. In all, about $500 million transportation projects remain on the T-Works blueprint.