Despite pleas from residents and a neighborhood petition with 100 signatures, construction will start the summer of 2020 on a project that opens residential 37th Street to the Vine Street/US-183 highway corridor.

About 40 neighbors from 37th Street filled the seats in City Hall at the Hays City Commission meeting Thursday evening in hopes of getting city commissioners to change their minds.

The residents of 37th Street said they’re worried about the safety of their kids because they expect more traffic, higher speeds and more crashes. They also expressed concern their property will decline in value.

After hearing the concerns, the city’s commissioners didn’t take action to stop the road opening, leaving resident Bill Wasinger walking out of the listening session and shaking his head.

“I understand and empathize with you that fear of the unknown is huge,” said Commission Chair Henry Schwaller IV to the crowd of people.

A longtime commissioner, Schwaller said he’s heard the same kinds of concerns from other residents about safety and increased traffic whenever the city has had to change streets through a neighborhood.

“It’s possible that all those things could happen, but the probability is low,” he said. “But there really are no clear alternatives that we have that will benefit everyone. There are pros and cons to all of them.”

Schwaller said the city commission would do its best to configure the opening in a way that’s safe. But he drew laughter and murmurs of disagreement from the people in the audience when he said city staff had told the commissioners during previous discussions that “The thought was you would like to go to Vine Street” without traveling through two future roundabouts being planned for construction.

“You wanted to know, ‘Why did you do it?’ Again, I’m not defending it, I’m just telling you the discussion that was had at the time. You may chuckle, you may think that I’m making fun of you, I’m not, I’m telling you the answer. If you don’t like the answer, I don’t know what to do,” Schwaller said. “It was thought the neighborhood would like access to Vine Street in a more efficient way, and it was not to let more people into your neighborhood. Might that happen? Yes. I think it might happen. I don’t think it will happen as often as you believe it will.”

Several other routes to Vine will be easier for people not living in the neighborhood, he said, and offer a straight shot to Vine.

City Commissioner Shaun Musil, the lone dissenter to the design, said the issue was the hardest he’s had to deal with as a commissioner. Musil made a motion that the city go back to a different design, but his motion died for lack of a second.

“I’ve said from day one … I’ve thought this was a bad idea,” said Musil. “If there was a gain for my community I would be 100 percent for this. There’s no gain to what we’re doing.”

The street opening results from the city’s larger $9.3 million Interstate 70 and Vine Street roundabouts project, which requires the Vine Street frontage roads be disconnected or set back from Vine, said Hays project manager John Braun.

Plans for the design will be 60 percent complete in the coming week, Braun told the commissioners, and the city has hired appraisers to start acquiring right-of-way parcels, all of which are vacant properties, he said.

Kansas Department of Transportation oversees awarding the bids, with the low bidder chosen in April 2020, Braun said.

The city had three different options to choose from, with the commissioners deciding previously that the 37th Street-Skyline Drive option was best.

Commissioner Ron Mellick said 37th Street residents may be happy Skyline Drive doesn’t currently connect to Vine Street, but others he’s heard from on surrounding streets are in favor of the 37th Street project.

“All I’ve heard tonight is about ‘we,’ ‘our’ and ‘us.’ ” Mellick said. “Your neighborhood is a part of the city of Hays. You don’t own 37th Street, it belongs to every citizen in the city of Hays and everyone has the right to drive down it. I’ve heard from residents up there that ‘We don’t want other people in our neighborhood.’ That upsets me.”

Most of the neighborhood now is accessing Vine from 32nd and 33rd streets, he said, and residents from those areas have been calling him also.

“The traffic count on their street is 4,500 vehicles. They’re concerned that, if and when 39th and 40th streets are developed, how much more traffic will there be on their streets?” Mellick said. “The only thing these residents on 32nd and 33rd are asking for is that the residents on 37th help shoulder and share a little of the traffic load.”

He said he asked people contacting him to come talk at the meeting and express their opinions.

“They all declined because they were afraid that their homes, their children, themselves would be a target of a future video on Facebook, so they won’t come. There are a lot of people in this community that are in favor of it,” Mellick said, drawing laughter and murmurs from the audience.

While some other options are cheaper, they create other problems, Braun said, including they would disconnect an existing business, create potential loss of business, have costs for relocating personal property, have extremely narrow right-of-way, add more traffic to the 32nd and 33rd streets, and impede future development.

The 37th Street-Skyline Drive option allows for the best traffic flow, doesn’t impact existing businesses and aids future property development, he said.

Truck traffic would be prohibited on 37th Street, indicated by street signs, Braun said.

City Commissioner Eber Phelps said the neighbors’ concerns are ones he’s heard from other neighborhoods as far back as 1990, when changes were made to 17th and other streets since.

“That concern that we always have about increased speeding and traffic accidents seems to be recurring, but there are ways to control it,” Phelps said. “The proposed design, it’s just not going to happen in my opinion.”

City Commissioner Sandy Jacobs told the audience that after listening to the neighbors speak she hasn’t changed her mind, and wants the project to go forward as planned.

“I’ve listened to each person who’s contacted me, I’ve appreciated the input,” said Jacobs. “I’ve done my homework, I’ve done fact-finding, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching, I’ve driven up and down those streets I don’t know how many times in the last few days. I also want you to know that I trust the city staff and I trust our engineers and I trust the people who are bringing these plans before us and recommending what is best.”


New airport truck and snow plow

The commissioners awarded the bid to buy a new truck and snow plow for the Hays Regional Airport. The bid for the equipment came in about $123,320 higher than the estimate, with the Federal Aviation Administration covering 90 percent of the cost.

Adding a combination truck and snow plow has been on the Airport Improvement Plan for several years, said Public Works Director Jesse Rohr. The new equipment replaces the tractor and loader-mounted steel plow that damages the pavement and markings, Rohr said.

Bids came in much higher than the engineer’s February 2019 initial estimate, he said, due to the FAA’s Buy American and all-wheel drive requirements for the vehicle. The only qualified bid was Bruckner Truck Sales Inc., Hays, at $271,039, with the city’s share $27,103.


Sewer cleaning to start

The commissioners awarded the bid for the city’s annual contracted sewer cleaning and CCTV inspection of 105,759 linear feet of sanitary sewer pipe. Water resources director Jeff Crispin said the work is part of the city’s routine maintenance and repair of the sanitary sewer system.

Low bid was from Arizona-based Pro-Pipe. Light cleaning came in at $97,854, but the department can spend up to $150,000 when problems like cracks, holes and tree root clogs are found and need repair. The multi-year program was started in 2013. Pro-Pipe also won the 2016 and 2018 contracts.


City to purchase new dump truck

The commissioners approved the purchase of a new dump truck to replace a 22-year-old truck.

Budgeted at $130,000, the bid for the 4 X 2 truck came in below that, at $101,717. The Model HV607 International truck and Henderson Mark E - body was bid by Summit Truck Group of Salina. The truck replaces the city’s 1997 Chevy C8500 Dump Truck, which has a broken frame.