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KDOT looking to close rest areas




RUSSELL -- A near doubling of water use at the rest areas near Russell has prompted the Kansas Department of Transportation to develop plans to close the facilities.

But first, they want to hear from the public on the idea of closing both the eastbound and westbound rest areas approximately 2 miles east of Russell on Interstate 70.

The preliminary decision to close the rest area comes in the wake of a suggestion by the city of Russell for all water users -- including the rest areas -- to reduce water use by a fourth of its normal consumption.

Water use at the rest areas, however, has continued to increase rather than fall, according KDOT district maintenance engineer Joe Finley.

The city of Russell, in a letter, notified KDOT it had not met that reduction goal, one of several provisions included in the city's water conservation plan.

Water use at the two sites has increased from nearly 800,000 gallons in 2011 to what likely will be nearly 1.6 million gallons this year. That's equal to water use in five households, Finley said.

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

While KDOT doesn't maintain visitation statistics for the rest areas, the boost in water use is largely the result of maintaining water levels in the lagoons that breakdown the wastewater discharged by the facilities.

Drought and lower visitation during the winter months has forced KDOT officials to add water to the lagoons to maintain the water levels to make sure they function properly.

When water levels fall in the lagoon, Finley said, "we have to pump water into it."

"The increase in water usage and costs and the fact that the rest areas are within a few miles of the same services in Russell and Bunker Hill, led us to consider closing the facilities," Finley said in a statement calling for public comments.

"If we know our rest areas are putting a hardship on the city of Russell, then it just makes sense to pursue the closures."

Rest areas also are available at WaKeeney to the west and near Ellsworth to the east, Finley said.

The rest areas are approximately 55 miles apart.

In addition to comments from local officials, KDOT will consider public comments in making the final decision.

Comments will be accepted through Jan. 15.

Absent a change of heart in the wake of public comments, the closing could take place as early as Feb. 1.

Comments can be made to Finley at (785) 877-3315 or by email to finley@ksdot.org or to KDOT Area Engineer Kevin Zimmer at (785) 625-9718 or kevinz@ksdot.org.

Comments can be mailed to 1811 W. Frontier Road, Hays, KS 67601.