U.S. 54 to be relocated through Greensburg, KS

| 7/6/2007

Two months after the small town of Greensburg suffered one of Kansas’ most destructive tornados that leveled most of the town and closed U.S. 54 – a major trucking route linking the Midwest and Southwest regions – the town’s residents say rebuilding is happening, but slowly.

Velda Wadel and her husband, Darrell Wadel, both OOIDA members from Greensburg, hosted Land Line Magazine staffers after the May 4 tornado reduced most Greensburg’s buildings to rubble.

About 50,000 truckloads of debris have been carted out of Greensburg, leaving blocks of bare, green grass and empty driveways, Velda said.

“It’s just bare,” Velda told Land Line on Friday, July 6. “To me it’s more depressing now than what it was – there’s just all these open blocks where people were.”

But there is good news.

The Hutchinson News reported Friday that a Wichita developer announced plans to use recently approved state tax credits to build 32 rental home units for senior citizens, and also is eying credits to build 24 to 36 single-family homes available to first-time homebuyers.

The local Kwik Shop convenience store offers the only grocery shopping opportunities in town, said Velda, who regularly shops 45 miles away in Dodge City.

In late June, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced a project to relocate U.S. 54 in Greensburg north a few blocks from its current path.

The concept calls for a diamond split interchange into the community, including eastbound traffic exiting the freeway at Bay Street and entering at Olive Street.

Westbound traffic would exit the freeway at Olive Street and enter at Bay Street, with about 3,000 feet separating the exits.

A news release from the state DOT said the location was “preferred by many city leaders and residents because it provided the most desirable mix of visibility, access and economic development opportunities.”

Roundabouts could be built to handle five-way intersections at the highway interchanges.

“The roundabouts would need to handle significant truck and agricultural vehicle traffic for ease of access to the grain elevator and local farm implement businesses,” the release read.

Angela Unruh is a longtime Greensburg resident who works at Kiowa County Memorial Hospital. Her father, Richard Barnes, is a Land Line Magazine reader.

Unruh told Land Line the hospital has been shifted to a temporary MASH-like setting, and that hospital workers hope someone will donate playground equipment for their children to play in during working hours.

The old playground was destroyed, Unruh said.

“We have an outdoor area donated to us to use for a play area right by the MASH unit, but we need to fence it in and get some play equipment,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Unruh said the highway relocation should help as Greensburg continues rebuilding following the May 5 tornado that destroyed much of town.

“Hopefully this will make it easier for the trucks to get through and traffic to flow faster,” Unruh said.

The new path may improve transportation, but Velda Wadel said Greensburg’s rebuilding seems more difficult than it did even immediately following May’s tornado.

She and Darrell invited Darrell’s nephew and his family to move in after his nephew’s house was destroyed in the tornado. The arrangement has proven to be just one more difficulty left in the tornado’s wake.

“They haven’t even given us an idea of when they’re going to build,” Velda told Land Line. “They just keep saying they’re going to build, they’re going to build … I feel like I’m homeless.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer