DODGE CITY, Kansas — A Kansas Department of Transportation plan that would carve away a portion of a historic southwest Kansas rock formation as part of a U.S. 50 expansion project has the support of Dodge City officials, but Ford County commissioners said they are leaning toward an option that would save the landmark.
At a work session Monday, City Commission members unanimously voiced support for KDOT's preferred plan for the $69 million four-lane expressway project between Cimarron and Dodge City that would create a 60-foot grass median to enhance safety, which commissioners said was their primary concern.
Ford County commissioners said at a different meeting Monday that constituents have urged them to protect the Point of Rocks monument three miles west of Dodge City. Because of that input, they gave their tentative support — though not an official resolution — for a proposal to create a 16-foot median, the Dodge City Globe (http://bit.ly/1iwHbMO) reported.
The state's Transportation Department created both options as a compromise after meeting with western heritage advocates who lobbied to preserve the Point of Rocks. The agency's initial plan would have completely removed the sandstone formation, which was a beacon for wagon trains and cattle drives in the 1800s.
A metal sign featuring a silhouette of cowboys atop horses was installed on the formation in 1997 by the city, which has a 20-year lease with property owner Jack Fox that expires in 2017, a year before the expansion project is scheduled to begin.
Fox has said he will not renew the lease if the plan using the wider median is adopted.
County Commissioner Shawn Tasset said Monday safety is a legitimate concern for county officials, but "Dodge City has a heritage."
"We keep chipping away at things like this that make the town what it is, make the county what it is," Tasset said. "It happened with the construction of the railroad and the construction of the highway to begin with. When do we stop?"
City Commissioner Jim Lembright, however, insisted the safety aspect had convinced him to side with the state.
"I'm not here to destroy history by any means, but I've lived here 50 years and I'd never heard of the Point of Rocks — and I've driven out there for years — until the silhouettes were put up there," Lembright said.
Fellow City Commissioner Rick Sowers questioned why politicians were even given a say on such a technical issue.
"Please let an engineer make this decision," he said.
Construction of the expansion is scheduled to begin in spring 2018 and be finished in the fall of 2019.
Information from: The Dodge City (Kan.) Globe, http://www.dodgeglobe.com