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DOT Gives Wichita $1 Million to Study Rail Traffic Delays Along 21st Street Corridor

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — For any driver getting frustrated with the 21st Street North tracks in Wichita, there is hope for smoother rides and fewer stops ahead.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is awarding the City of Wichita a $1 million grant to study ways to improve traffic in the area.

Kansas Congressman Ron Estes said he and Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in November and outlined the problems along 21st Street.

The street is one of the connectors between east and west Wichita. It is used by people in Wichita’s North End, Nomar, ict21 industrial district and Wichita State University.

“Currently, the 21st Street Corridor runs between the city’s two distinct and culturally rich communities,” Estes wrote.


But Estes said many Wichitan and business interests choose to avoid the area, and accused rail traffic of “presenting the most significant physical obstacle.”

Eight tracks are clustered at four intersections in the 21st Street mile between Broadway and I-135. Estes said that according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there are about 75 train movements a day, mostly low-speed on 21st Street.

Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians have to wait five to nine minutes for trains to pass. But the delay could be up to 90 minutes if the passage to access the shunting tracks takes place in the railway yards.

He said the delays are a challenge for people trying to find work, medical care, child care, grocery stores, places of worship and more.

Estes said the result is limited economic development in the area.

“At present, there are 261 vacant lots, 85 of which are commercial and/or industrial lots between the railroad tracks and I-135,” Buttigieg wrote. “Also, the industrial nature of the area means noise, unsafe pedestrian/cyclist environments, lack of transit access and longer wait times for emergency services.”

“Multiple railroad crossings along 21st Street are negatively impacting communities in Wichita’s North End, blurring the quality of life for residents, stunting economic growth, reducing pedestrian safety, and forcing travelers to choose alternative routes,” Estes said in a press release.

DOT replies

On February 14, the DOT announced the $1 million grant for Wichita. The city will use the funding to engage with stakeholders and support a planning study for the 21st Street Corridor.

Estes said there has been much talk about the 21st Street Corridor for decades, but no action.

“I am delighted that Wichitans will finally have movement as the Kansas Department of Transportation and Sedgwick County can begin to engage the community, investigate the issue, and develop a solution that will improve this important and vibrant part of our city,” he said.

Community response

“This grant will renew focus on connecting two communities while promoting economic opportunity for our North End residents and its industries,” said Ariel Rodriguez, executive director of Empower. “Our community is optimistic about the future vision of the Nomar District and this grant confirms the importance of the area. We are confident that we will find practical solutions that will make visiting the Nomar district easier and improve the quality of life for our neighbors and businesses.”

“This grant offers an exciting opportunity for Wichita’s North End and the District of Nomar,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Ryan Baty. “The infrastructure investment will definitely help spur future development.”

Wichita had similar delays at other railroad crossings years ago, from downtown to 13th Street. Construction crews raised the tracks above the streets during a five-year, multimillion-dollar project that ended in 2009. But the project didn’t extend to 21st Street.

“The next evolution of our community is on the horizon, and Wichita hopes to begin evaluating and addressing the unique challenges of the 21st Street Corridor project,” Estes wrote to Buttigieg.

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